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With over 100 countries and territories now affected, the novel coronavirus is quickly turning into an international cause for concern, but leave the masks on the shelves. There’s no need to panic — yet. 

As the number of cases rise, it seems the panic surrounding the disease follows suit. While there are preventative measures that can be taken to minimize chances of catching the disease, the first step in prevention comes with awareness about the disease. 

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, comes from a family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to severe respiratory infections. The disease originates in animals and spreads to humans. 

There have been outbreaks of coronaviruses in the past, most recently in 2012 with the outbreak of MERS-CoV, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. This particular strain originated in dromedary camels. 

Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, these may take between two to 14 days following exposure to arise. As of March 8, the World Health Organization has reported 105,586 confirmed cases globally. As of March 7, the CDC has reported 164 cases here in the U.S. with a death count of 11. 

Although there is only one presumptive case of the virus in Louisiana, there is still a cause for concern. KATC-3 recently reported that a Lafayette Middle School teacher “self-quarantined” following travel abroad. 

The Daily Advertiser also revealed that the Lafayette diocese has also taken precautions in altering the mass service, refraining from offering sacrificial wine, discouraging hand holding during the “Our Father '' prayer, and substituting hand shaking during the “Offering of Peace'' for the peace sign. The University also put out an official memo addressing the outbreak this past Friday, March 6. 

For more insight into how local individuals can be prepared, The Vermilion sat down with Ritwij Kulkarni, Ph.D., an associate professor of the biology department here at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Although viruses are not his field of research, he is well informed on the situation.

In addressing misconceptions, Kulkarni noted the largest one he’s seen is in regards to a cure. We currently don't have one for coronavirus, and it will likely be several months before a vaccine is developed. 

He is also realistic about the risk of it spreading to our region, stating: “I don’t know whether we can easily say if we are at risk or not. We might be able to say we’re at lower risk compared to big cities like Houston or New York where there are international airports but still, we’re not that far from Houston.” 

He said we should still remain vigilant and pay attention to the updates, urging us to “listen to their advice. Listen to doctors. Listen to professionals.” This isn’t the time to panic. 

Kulkarni also urged healthy citizens to leave face masks be, so they’re available for people who actually need them — those infected and healthcare professionals.

UL Lafayette students are equally observant of the situation at hand. Overall, it seems that worries are relatively low. 

Angela Comeaux, a junior majoring in English, said of her fears about the virus: “It’s a concern, but not an immediate worry.” 

She addressed the social impact of the disease as well: “People should be able to check their own biases.” 

Comeaux encouraged compassion during this time, especially towards those who may need the extra protection or “who have nothing to do with it.” She said that, despite there being no confirmed cases in Louisiana, “we still may see this racism come out.”

Her sentiments were echoed in another student. John St.Clair, a senior majoring in performing arts, described how present conversations surrounding the virus have been. 

“I’ve heard that it continues to spread and we haven’t found a definite cure for it. More and more people are dying, which is very alarming to me,” St.Clair said. “I think there’s definitely going to be a crisis at hand, from living through past viral outbreaks.” 

Although he isn’t immediately worried, St.Clair will be moving north soon, where the outbreak is more severe.

Hayden McBride, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, said of the university’s forward thinking: “I think it’s good the university is staying on top of it. I think that they’re doing more than they need to do since there are no cases of it in Louisiana yet, but it’s good they’re on top of their stuff.”

The best thing we can do is to remain knowledgeable and be aware of the situation at hand. There’s one course of action that everyone has agreed upon that can be summed up by McBride’s final comment:

“Just keep washing your hands.”

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