Welcome Back! We are so glad to have you on campus again. I am so happy to see you all wearing face coverings and taking this so seriously. Here is this week’s set of questions I’ve been hearing from students:

Why shouldn’t we just have a COVID-19 party and get it over with?

While I wish it was all that simple, here are a few reasons why not to do this:

First, while most cases of COVID-19 in young adults are relatively mild, we are learning a lot more about the real numbers of people who get sick. The part of the population with the fastest growing rate of new infections is young adults. We still see young adults who are very ill, and we can not predict who will be very ill or only have a mild case. Even if you are not very ill, you still feel bad. There is also new evidence that there may be long-standing heart and lung damage even with mild cases. 

Second, if you are sick, you are isolated for 10 days — no classes, no visits with friends, moving out of apartments and residence halls. Your close contacts: roommates, maybe some classmates and close friends are in quarantine for 14 days. Quarantine is essentially the same as isolation, and you are not sick while in quarantine, so you may feel even worse about being so isolated. 

Third, if you get infected, you can easily pass it on to someone who is not a young adult like you and who may be more susceptible to a serious case. 

Fourth, if a lot of students and subsequently faculty and staff get ill, especially all at once, we may have to shift and move campus operations to the way it was at the end of spring term. Do you want to be responsible for making people go back home and miss out on classes and campus life? 

Finally, we don’t know for sure that once you have it, you will never get it again. There is not enough information right now to say there is long-term immunity after infection. 

What is the status of the vaccine?

There are a lot of interesting, very different approaches that are being applied to creating a vaccine to this novel coronavirus. There are several in-clinical trials right now that will determine if there is persistent, measured immunity and what side effects may occur with larger numbers of administration. Once these answers are clearer, production will start, and the vaccine will be rolled out publicly. Because of the time it takes to wrap these steps up, we will likely not have a vaccine before the end of the calendar year. 

Even though this seems like a long time, the genome was published very quickly after the virus was isolated in February. Developing a coronavirus vaccine is different from creating a new influenza vaccine because we did not have a vaccine platform to start with like we do for influenza, and the virus itself is different in many ways. 

My roommate tested positive but wasn’t sick at all. Why are some people sick and others are not? 

More and more data and evidence is rolling in about the body’s reaction and the pathophysiology of clinical cases. Our body's immune system reaction to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection, drives the clinical manifestation. This is different from other pathogens which themselves attack cellular or organ structure and function. This reaction or overreaction may explain some of the severity differences related to baseline health status, age and even racial and ethnic groups.  The exact mechanism is still being worked out and looking at people who have serious disease and comparing them to those that don’t is exactly how this evidence is being gathered. There are cellular models for researching this response, but currently there are no good animal models to help us. 

As you can imagine, there are difficulties doing research on people as human subjects while they are so ill and during a disaster that is related to resources, collection of data and ethical concerns. Reviewing published data is also hard when the rush to publish is not reviewed for strengths and flaws in data analysis, study design and conclusion making. This opens data to critique and questions, all the while recognizing the need to get information out quickly.

Are people on campus contagious?

We have identified cases on campus in students, faculty and staff. Student Health Services continues to test students who are seen, who are sick and who are close contacts. Students, staff and faculty have self-reported that they have tested positive or are close contacts. We advise everyone to either self-isolate or self-quarantine, whichever is appropriate. Some people are infected and infectious and do not have symptoms. We are starting  the Wolfpack Surveillance Program to see just how many people might be asymptomatic carriers. 

However, there are also people who are sick, and may not know if it is COVID-19 or something else, and are still socializing, going to class and eating in contact with others. Everyone needs to be especially careful during this pandemic. Stay home, watch for 24 hours and see if the symptoms resolve or get worse to better define what is wrong, and, as always, you can come to Student Health Services or see any health care provider and get seen so we can figure out what is wrong. 

Next time…. Why do I isolate for 10 days but quarantine for 14? Can I play sports? Why do some masks work and others not? Why is it 4-6 feet distance?