What’s the Impact on MSU and East Lansing from the Coronavirus?

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Thursday, February 27, 2020, 7:30 am
Alice Dreger

Above: Image of virus from CDC.gov.

ELi runs a service called Ask ELi to Investigate. This week, a reader contacted us with questions about what impact the coronavirus COV-19 might be having on MSU’s international student enrollment.

Ordinarily we don’t cover questions specifically about MSU — we focus our public news service on East Lansing because other news organizations cover the university, and we are here to fill in the big news gaps of our City. But given that East Lansing hosts a large international population, COV-19 is something for us to be thinking about as a city-wide concern.

So, we took our reader’s questions and got some answers from MSU deputy spokesperson Daniel Olsen.

Asked what the impact COV-19 might have on the enrollment levels of international students at MSU, Olsen said it is too early to know, as international applications for enrollment in the 2020-21 school year aren’t due until the end of March.

It’s difficult to know, too, whether all admitted international students will be allowed travel to the U.S. come the new school year. If the virus becomes pandemic — as many experts are now saying is inevitable – some travel bans may be lifted as they become pointless.

If travel bans do remain in place, besides potentially getting in the way of international students’ abilities to get their educations here, this could have an impact on the housing market of East Lansing – something that is a big issue in East Lansing right now. This week, Council took steps toward obtaining a housing study because a lot of big new housing projects are going up or being proposed.

Travel disruptions occurring as reactions to COV-19 could contribute to a rental housing oversupply. But, as Olsen notes, it’s simply too early to tell what impact the virus is going to have on our international population.

Could international students end up “trapped in the U.S. over the summer,” in our reader’s words, as they try to avoid being exposed or being on the wrong side of a travel barrier?

Says Olsen, “MSU has suspended all university-sponsored travel to China, Singapore and Hong Kong through July 31, 2020. However, the university does not restrict personal travel and MSU’s Office of International Health and Safety will continue to work with students to help them through the decision-making process for international travel to ensure they make informed decisions.”

Will the U.S. allow students to stay here in order to avoid going to places with high viral activity?

“Our Office for International Studies and Programs is working with students impacted by the coronavirus outbreak on a case-by-case basis to provide resources, support and accommodations, including summer housing, student visas, internships and employment opportunities,” Olsen says.

MSU’s dedicated webpage on COV-19 indicates that a special task force has been convened to monitor and respond to news on the virus. For now, at least, their decisions seem to consist chiefly of following advice from the federal government’s health experts.

MSU’s administration is looking also to remind people to use good hygiene even if they have no reason to believe they’re at active risk of contracting COV-19, because it’s just a good idea to avoid contagious practices as much as is practical. (Reminder: Michigan is having a pretty active flu season, and the flu can be debilitating and also deadly.)

What kinds of practices should you use?

Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman, internationally renowned experts in risk communication, suggest replacing handshakes with elbow-bumps, practicing not touching our faces with our fingers, and “building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.” Washing hands carefully before eating is also a good idea.

Lanard and Sandman are of the opinion that a pandemic of COV-19 is now inevitable, and they argue it is time to prepare people with advice like this:

  • “Try to get a few extra months’ worth of prescription meds, if possible.” This will help people avoid going to clinics and drugstores where there may be a lot of sick people.
  • “Think through now how we will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected.” Being prepared now with cleaning supplies like Clorox wipes, adequate supplies of food, a good thermometer, humidifiers, and over-the-counter symptom relievers is a good idea. You should also think now about how you can separate a sick person in a household from those who are well — separate them consistently in terms of eating, sleeping, and bathroom use, if at all possible.
  • “Cross-train key staff at work so one person’s absence won’t derail our organization’s ability to function.” In some places where the virus has broken out, schools have closed and so parents of school-age children have had to stay home. Now is a good time to try to figure out how your work group will function if work has to be managed with short staff or people working from home.

Lanard and Sandman also suggest recognizing that dealing with something like an unpredictable viral pandemic means managing emotional reactions. Having a preparedness plan can help reduce fear and anxiety.

It’s also worth knowing that xenophobia (fear of foreigners) has been a common human reaction to sudden outbreaks of illness for thousands of years across many cultures. That doesn’t make it rational or right as a response — just common. In the words of MSU’s dedicated web page, “we cannot let that anxiety drive us to disrespect others.”

This article from ELi provides preparedness tips for emergencies of various kinds.

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