US Colleges Race To Combat H1N1: Quarantine Dorms & Sanitizers
Nationwide, there are approximately, 15.9 million college students, at more than 4,000 two-year and four-year institutions.
According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), there are more than 2,000 H1N1 flu victims on college campuses across the United States at the start of the 2009 fall school year. As colleges welcome students back, numerous school officials are scrambling to find various ways to keep infected students from spreading the virus among the rest of the population.
Mr. James Turner is the president of the American College Health Association and executive director of the Department of Student Health at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
NPR had interviewed Mr. Turner on the state of readiness for colleges and universities across the United States.
Mr. Turner: Yes, yes, I am. You know, and I wanted to actually update the data that American College Health provided on Wednesday. We added 33 schools since then, and this is hot off the presses. So you're the first people to hear about this. But we're over 2,000 cases from 189 schools.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re seeing thousands of cases every week.
It is not surprising that colleges are using various measures to prevent the H1N1 virus from spreading among the student population due to packed dormitories, common dinning halls, athletic facilities, and a myriad of other gathering places for students.
There was a heightened sense of health awareness in my university's campus as I was continually being asked to use an array of hand sanitizer dispensers or antibacterial wipes. The automatic hand sanitizer dispensers were stationed at the entrances to each building, in all offices, and bottles of sanitizer were prominent at the desks of the school administrators and staff.
Waves and air-hugs have replaced the usual handshakes and hugs.
I teach at another college where similar antibacterial hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in the classrooms and labs. It is noticeable that students are using hand sanitizer at a higher rate and frequency, which might bode well for the general college population.
The general student population appears to pay attention to the new 'culture' as indicated by their remarkably self-restraint greetings with less hugs and physical contacts.
“A key problem is that people of that age group do not think they are vulnerable - they don’t think anything is going to get them,’’ said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a flu specialist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Apparently, H1N1 flu is most prevalent at colleges in the Southeast and Northwest according to the ACHA survey. Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington appear to have the higher rates of infection.
Mr. Turner: It's hitting predominately in the Southeast but some in the Northwest as well. Northeast, Midwest, mid-Atlantic has been spared thus far.
Emory University in Atlanta, GA., was one of the first colleges that had set aside a dormitory specifically for those students stricken with H1N1 virus. So far, it also appears to be the most well prepared and operated school in fighting the H1N1 flu epidemic.
Students voluntarily entered the Turman South dormitory once they were tested to be H1N1 flu positive. The students continued their school activities via computers and iPhones. It resembled a typical college dorm with some exceptions as these sick students received free meals along with Tamiflu and thermometers.
The residents of Turman South receive free meals, do not attend class, and travel to the pharmacy in a van they call the Flying Pig. Linens are changed daily. A staff member brings grocery bags of Tamiflu, granola, sports drinks, soup and thermometers.
Technically, the flu-stricken students may leave anytime, although so far, none has left unless they are medically cleared to leave after remaining fever-free and without any medication for 24 hours.
According to those students who lived in the dorm, the experience was a combination of sleep, bonding with newly made friends, and enjoying down time without having to attend classes and do homework. Professors have been supportive of the program by communicating with their students via emails.
Some students remain behind locked doors, with the lights off, sleeping as much as 16 hours a day. But the more social — and healthy — gather in a break room and swap gallows humor about their predicament. Many students say they almost enjoy the quarantine. It is an adventure, a bonding experience and a chance for guilt-free laziness.
“Ultimately, it wasn’t completely terrible,” a student said. “You’d always rather be in your dorm room. But being in quarantine was a bond you can’t break.”
Other colleges have followed the example of Emory University with some variations such as Carnegie Mellon, which plans to use a vacant sorority house, and Princeton has decided to set aside spaces for healthy students as sickened students would sleep alone in their rooms.
Carnegie Mellon University designated a vacant sorority house for the infected. St. John’s University set aside a gymnasium. And Princeton did the opposite, reserving spaces for healthy students, so sick roommates can sleep in solitude.
The University of Massachusetts does not have the luxury of spare spaces, but instead, the school has asked its students to abide by an altruistic code, insofar if they are sick, they should stay in their dorm rooms.
The school does not provide any detail about providing accommodation for the healthy roommates. Healthy students are encouraged to deliver food to the sick ones.
It remains to be seen whether or not this flu-buddy system will work or be effective.
But the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has no excess capacity, so students are being asked to live by an altruistic code: If you’re sick, stay in your room so you don’t make others ill. If you’re healthy, deliver food to those who aren’t.
Similarly, the Washington State University does not have a quarantine system nor does it have any particular special plan in place to combat H1N1. So far, the university health service has reported that some 2,000 students have shown H1N1 symptoms, although most of the cases are mild.
At least 2,000 students at Washington State University have reported symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus, university and local health officials said, in what appeared to be one of the largest outbreaks of the virus on a college campus.
The university is asking those students who are sick to stay home until they are feverless for 24 hours.
Apparently, most universities are handling the H1N1 outbreak on campuses by employing a variety of methods, as some are using mandatory quarantines while others rely on the students' sense of altruism and social responsibility. It is too early to determine whether or not the latter approach will also be effective.
It remains unclear when the peak of the H1N1 outbreak will occur since there are numerous schools that will start after the traditional Labor Day, Sept. 7.
Remarkably, most schools have not discussed the possible use of conducting classes online or via streaming media to keep healthy and sick students apart should the outbreak escalates.
Most Recommended Comment
New York, New York, United States