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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Online instruction proves paramount for slowing spread of COVID-19, scientists say

Scientists call for campus closures due to novel coronavirus 

No longer are bikes dotting the streets of campus. No longer are lecture halls filling up with students diligently taking notes. No longer are dining halls bustling with freshmen. With the recent campus closures due to threats of spreading COVID-19, instruction is held remotely and entirely online this Spring Quarter. Students will be watching lectures, contributing to discussions and taking tests using computers in their homes, at their desks, at their dining room tables or even in their beds. 

UC Davis, along with all other UC campuses, made this decision based on guidance from local and state public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further measures, including stricter guidelines regarding avoidance of non-essential gatherings, have been implemented to ensure social distancing to keep the Davis community safe, said Cindy Schorzman, the medical director of Student Health and Counseling Services, via email. 

“The health and safety of students, faculty and staff is of paramount importance,” Schorzman said. 

Guidelines provided by the CDC as well as local and state public health authorities informed UC Davis’ decision to transition all finals online at the end of last quarter and implement remote instruction for the entirety of Spring Quarter, Schorzman said. Because much is still unknown about this virus, these guidelines have been put in place, such as the CDC’s recommendation to reduce as much interaction with others as possible.

“Online classes are the only way to properly practice social distancing while continuing school education,” said Angela Haczku, a professor of medicine and the associate dean for research at the UC Davis School of Medicine, via email.

Currently, scientists believe that the virus spreads through respiratory droplets, which are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, Schorzman said. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of others within six feet, which can then possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Individuals may also become infected by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their faces, especially near the mouth or nose. 

“[The virus] stays on surfaces for days waiting for people to touch and pick them up,” Haczku said. “The virus first enters the mouth and gets into the gut system (sometimes causes diarrhea) and then makes its way into the airways, where it infects the lung.”

Researchers have found that the symptoms can vary widely. Some people may develop no symptoms, while others have a mild flu-like illness or even extremely severe pneumonia that can be fatal, Haczku said. 

Since the main way COVID-19 spreads is thought to be through inhaling respiratory droplets, the main strategies implemented to prevent its spread involve limiting potential exposure to these droplets, Haczku said. 

One strategy is social distancing since respiratory droplets are unlikely to travel more than six feet. Also, washing one’s hands multiple times a day to remove infected particles before they spread to others is very important. Lastly, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is effective to reduce the number of infected particles to which individuals are exposed, Haczku said. 

“[The virus] is spread by droplets and by contact, so if we limit the number of contacts people have, we can limit the spread of this infection,” said Dean Blumberg, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “We know it is already in the community, so we are trying to limit the number of contacts to limit the number in the entire community.”

By reducing interactions with others, scientists hope that the spread of the virus can be slowed down, Blumberg said. Since cases of COVID-19 are increasing logarithmically, the number of cases is climbing rapidly. New York City’s doubling time — the time it takes for the number of cases to double — is about a day, which puts immense pressure on the health care system. In California, the doubling time is three days, giving hospitals more time to prepare for more patients.

By following public health guidelines, such as the current shelter-in-place order from Yolo County Public Health, this doubling time will slow and fewer individuals will get infected, Blumberg said. If students returned back to Davis after spring break, it is important that they continue adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

“This means that anyone not living together is strongly discouraged from meeting together in person unless essential for health and safety and that individuals should only leave their home for essential travel and activities,” Blumberg said. “When students are away from their home, they should adhere to strict social distancing guidelines.”

For individuals who are not infected but want to protect themselves, in addition to practicing social distancing and keeping good hygiene, they should keep a healthy lifestyle, Haczku said. They should eat and sleep properly and avoid activities that weaken the immune system, like stress, smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol. Exercise is also important, even if people cannot go to the gym.

“This is a time when showing leadership and team spirit in following the rules for social distancing is necessary in order to save lives and help slow down the disease course for everyone,” Hackzu said. “It is a little bit like a war situation when, in order to stay alive, teamwork and unity is essential.”

It is easy for people to feel lonely and less connected to their community while isolating at home, so maintaining relationships with others is important, Schorzman said.

“Consider regularly reaching out to classmates and friends, including through online chat options,” Schorzman said. 

For students who are having difficulties such as anxiety or depression, resources such as counseling services are available 24-hours at 530-752-0871.

“Humans and especially young people are extremely social creatures,” Hackzu said. “Social distancing is resented by everybody. In order to cope, you should stay informed and find ways to keep in touch remotely with your friends, family and community, regularly.” 

As the first coronavirus pandemic, it is important for students to stay informed. COVID-19 is a disease that scientists do not know much about, which is scary and fascinating at the same time, Haczku said. 

“We should all learn together how to handle a dangerous and unusual disease potentially affecting all human beings,” Haczku said. “This is also an opportunity for all of your bright students out there to shine, be creative and come up with groundbreaking new ideas on how to conquer this devastating pandemic.”

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — science@theaggie.org


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