JWU's Public Health Experts Weigh in on Coronavirus

Now more than ever, people are turning to public health officials for answers on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Misinformation is spreading easily through social media, so we turned to experts right here at Johnson & Wales to set us straight on the virus, who is at risk, and what we can do to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy.

Samantha Rosenthal, assistant professor of health science, shares key information on the virus that is spreading across the globe.

“COVID-19, like the flu and common cold, can spread pretty easily from person to person,” says Rosenthal. “For the average college student, who is young and generally healthy, there's not much to be concerned about in terms of your personal health.”

Samantha Rosenthal

In particular, she adds, even if a young and generally healthy person were to contract COVID-19 (worst case scenario projects 60% of people infected), 80% of people will just have mild symptoms. These symptoms will pass, similar to other viruses we tend to contract at this time of year. The virus itself usually takes about five days average from exposure to causing symptoms, and then symptoms are likely to be expressed for no longer than two weeks.

Why is there panic?

“Panic seems to be occurring less so because of the actual risk of death from COVID-19, and more so from the disruption to regular life that is occurring with this epidemic,” says Rosenthal.

  • There have been economic consequences globally, such as certain manufacturing industries being shut down and the stock market taking a hit. There has also been a rush to purchase personal hygiene products because everyone is taking additional precautions to avoid the virus.
  • Also, people are hoarding masks to reduce their own risk, but it is causing a shortage for our healthcare professionals who are on the front lines of this battle and truly need our support.
  • In some countries, like China and Italy, entire regions are being self-quarantined for some period of time. These are sensible and appropriate precautions to insure we minimize major spikes in cases that could overwhelm healthcare systems. Yet, being asked to self-quarantine is disruptive and uncomfortable--hence the panic.

What can JWU students do?

“As stewards of the common good, it is incredibly important that we take steps to reduce our risk of contracting the virus to avoid being responsible for transmitting it to someone who is, in fact, high risk like elderly people or those with underlying conditions such as heart disease,” Rosenthal says. “So do your best to wash your hands, stay at home if you are sick, and avoid large crowded gatherings as if someone else's health depends on it.”

How can we learn from this?

Despite the concern that has come with this epidemic, this is a great real-life learning opportunity for Health Science and Public Health students. “In fact, the COVID-19 epidemic is directly relevant to basically every course we offer in the department,” Rosenthal says. “Our students plan to work in the health field, whether treating patients directly, developing health policy, health communications, health management, conducting health research, or working as applied public health practitioners in the community. All of these roles are essential in the response to COVID-19. We have already incorporated the current epidemic into our daily course content.”