City Paper is not for tourists
“Nothing’s slower than a sick turtle,” reads an anti-swine flu advert at the University of Maryland, reminding student Terps to practice proper coughing-and-sneezing etiquette and to wash their hands often.
Still, as of yesterday, there were 172 suspected cases of H1N1 at the university, according to the Associated Press. And the health center has canceled all non-emergency appointments (except for allergy and immunization services) for the rest of the week “due to the high incidence of influenza-like illness.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month issued a guide for higher ed institutions that outlined strategies to minimize the incidence of the flu. The strategies – sneeze into your sleeve, provide adequate supplies of soap and paper towels, have students “self-isolate” if they’re sick, wipe down high-touch surfaces – make perfect sense from a public health perspective.
But here’s the thing: These are students!And this is university life! I just can’t see many people wiping down the study carrel at the library before sitting down, or doing the same when borrowing a friend’s laptop. And will encouraging students living together to “regularly clean frequently used surfaces such as doorknobs, refrigerator handles, remote controls, computer keyboards, countertops, faucet handles, and bathroom areas” really make them do it? Students tend not to be big on cleaning.
There is one other strategy – “increase social distances” – that would also seem near impossible on campus, let alone, actually, anywhere. The CDC writes:
The goal should be for there to be at least 6 feet of distance between people at most times. This is not a simple or easy strategy and would typically require considerable flexibility. Possible options to increase the amount of space between students include moving desks farther apart, leaving vacant seats between students, holding classes outdoors, and using distance learning methods.
Maryland’s plan does include potential use of a “‘social distancing’ protocol that allows only classes and essential group gatherings.” Something called the Incident Response Team “will determine what activities are deemed essential.”
Strategies or no, more flu cases are on the way. At Washington State University, some 2,500 students have already called health services to report symptoms.