Committee establishes SARS procedures

In case Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) appears on the Portland State University campus, a group dubbed the PSU SARS Action Committee was recently formed.

The committee comprises the International Education Services, Admissions, Campus Safety, Student Life, Student Activities, Student Health and the School of Public Health.

The creation of this action group gives the school targeted response and procedures specific to SARS symptoms. If more serious actions are necessary, the Multnomah County Public Health Office has full responsibility to handle a potential outbreak.

Readiness for and the provision of information on the virus to students and faculty at PSU are the aims of the committee.

“Our approach, at this stage, would be really to try to get out as much information as we can into our community to tell people what the real facts of SARS are,” said Michele Justice, member of the PSU SARS Action Committee and student adviser for the International Education Services. “Most of the cases that have spread were caused by close contact with public-health workers or family members, so the chances of you walking through the airport with someone that has SARS and getting it is probably pretty negligible.”

The PSU committee is planning a public forum about SARS for all interested parties. No formal date has been set.

Recent concern that the spread of SARS could contaminate its campus led University of California Berkeley administrators to ban students from high-risk nations such as China, Taiwan and Hong Kong from attending summer courses. Subsequently, the ban was reduced to allow 80 students from those countries to arrive, although hundreds more have had their admission barred for this summer, a Los Angeles Times article stated.

While many colleges and universities around the United States have had their students in study-abroad programs that have World Health Organization travel precautions levied against them return, including Oregon University System’s Chinese Intensive Language Program, UC Berkeley’s policy on foreign admission was the first of its kind in the nation.

The international watch on the SARS virus continues as the death toll climbs to 559 with 7,400 known cases reported. China remains the hardest hit country with more than 5,000 infected and 252 killed by the virus.

China is cautiously optimistic that it may have slowed the rampant transmission of SARS, stemming from government announcements of three consecutive days of sub-100 person infections.

Anxiety has not totally subsided according to Noah Wong, an American and University of Oregon alumnus currently working in Shanghai, China.

He said policies installed to fight the contagious disease include travel restrictions and increased spitting fines.

“Traveling between cities is incredibly painstaking, as everyone must go through recently implemented checkpoints at the borders,” Wong said. “A friend of mine told me it took them three hours to move two kilometers because they had to get their (temperature) taken and undergo other tests.”

The travel industry in China and in much of southeast Asia has slowed to a painful crawl due to the crisis.

Hotels and popular destinations across the populous nation, such as much of the Great Wall of China, that serve numerous foreign visitors have either closed or are struggling for business. In Shanghai, the famous Peace Hotel has been shut down for three months to wait out the lull.

Wong corroborates the stagnant tourist trade.

“I know a tour guide who works for the China International Travel company and he has informed me that this year’s travelers for May 1 holiday (China’s Labor Day) were next to none this year,” Wong said. “Everyone canceled their plans to travel to China and were demanding refunds.”