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Two possible cases of coronavirus at Miami University, health officials say

Posted at 10:54 AM, Jan 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-28 22:28:21-05

OXFORD, Ohio — Two Miami University students who traveled to China over the winter break are being investigated for the deadly coronavirus, but there is no cause for panic in the college community, according to state and local health officials.

The two students are isolated in an off-campus residence in case they have the illness, which has flu-like symptoms, officials said. Health officials sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, and test results should be back within 48 hours.

At a Tuesday news conference, officials emphasized that people who have not recently traveled to China have a "low risk" of getting the coronavirus, and there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Ohio.

Dr. Amy Acton, Director of Health for the Ohio Department of Health, said a person's "travel history is the key to our investigation."

"Only with that travel history or direct contact with someone who is under investigation are you truly at risk," Acton said.

According to the CDC, the five people in the U.S. known to have contracted coronavirus traveled to Wuhan, China - the center of the outbreak. And there has been no person-to-person spread of the disease in the U.S.

Nevertheless, fear persists following news reports of scores of deaths in China. Miami's basketball opponents postponed games at Oxford this week, according to Miami President Greg Crawford. A statement from Central Michigan said the decision to not play Tuesday's men's game was made for "the health and safety of our student-athletes." Western Michigan postponed its Wednesday women's game.

WATCH the news conference:

News conference: Two possible cases of coronavirus at Miami University

While the campus buzzed about the news, Crawford said Miami would maintain its class schedule and not cancel any other activities. Officials said Miami students and staff were alerted to the situation and advised to take normal precautions for protecting themselves during a typical winter flu season. (See precautions below).

“Actually, the first time I saw it, my dad sent it to me over text," said freshman Luke Shaheen. "I checked social media and everyone is blowing up about it. Everyone is texting in group chats.

“People are alert about it, they know about it, but we’re not sure how serious it is yet,” Shaheen said.

“My parents are a little more worried than I am.”

Some students wore masks on campus Tuesday, but health officials said that’s not necessary.

“Just extra hand sanitizer, wash my hands, make sure I’m really staying clean," Shaheen said. "I’m not too worried yet.”

Acton said her agency has been in contact with the CDC for a couple of weeks and that she is in charge of preparedness and oversight should the virus be discovered in Ohio.

"We are on it. We stand prepared,” Acton said.

WATCH Dr. Stephen Feagins of Mercy Health Anderson discuss coronavirus:

Doctor's perspective on coronavirus

Officials said the two Miami students are "comfortable" and did not need to be hospitalized. But the two had questionable symptoms and travel locations, so they were tested after one went to the university health clinic Monday and reported their conditions after returning from their trip.

“It’s not a quarantine, but they happen to live independently where they can stay at home," Acton said. "They’re not sick. They don’t need to be hospitalized.”

A spokesperson for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport said they were looking into whether the two students flew through CVG.

At this point, Acton said, the coronavirus is not nearly as dangerous to Ohioans as the flu.

“Many, many more people will die in our state from the flu,” she said.

But Acton also pointed out two known "areas of risk" for Ohio when it comes to the coronavirus.

"One is we actually have a sister-city relationship with Wuhan," Acton said, referring to a business relationship with Columbus. "We also have our wonderful students who come here to go to school, but it could be others. It could be professors. So it really is the travel history that's important."

RELATED: Coronavirus death toll exceeds 130 in China as infections skyrocket.

Dr. Steven Blatt of TriHealth said that hospital system "has plans in place" should patients come down with the virus.

"I think it's important to know that most of the people who've been tested for coronavirus have something else" - like the flu, Blatt said.

Any Miami student who experiences symptoms should call Student Health Services at 513-529-3000.

Symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • Fever (may not always be present)
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Runny nose

People who have recently traveled to China or have been in close contact with someone being tested for coronavirus should:

  • Monitor your health for 14 days from the day you first traveled or had contact with someone being tested for the virus. Fourteen days is considered to be the incubation period.
  • Call your doctor before going in if you have any symptoms so they can give instructions.

Click here for tips on how to protect yourself from the coronavirus.