Just when the Penn State community thought it might not have to worry about a widespread virus again following the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the first case of monkeypox was confirmed at University Park.
On Aug. 17, the university announced that the individual who tested positive for the virus is an off-campus student. They have been seen by health care providers and are isolating and recovering, Penn State said.
A virus like this seems so far away from Happy Valley — until it’s not, which is similar to when the first coronavirus cases appeared locally.
However, while monkeypox is reportedly less deadly than coronavirus, the typical quarantine time is around two to four weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This could lead to various issues the university needs to address before more cases appear.
In the release, Penn State said it recommends that students follow precautions, such as avoiding close, skin-to-skin contact with individuals who have a rash. The university listed the most common symptoms of monkeypox — such as a fever, headache, backache, muscle aches, rash, swollen lymph nodes and general discomfort and exhaustion.
Penn State also urged students to take precautions by self-isolating, and it said students should contact University Health Services or their health provider if they notice symptoms.
While Penn State published a press release with information about monkeypox and protocol for students, it wasn’t sent in a separate personal email. Rather, multiple releases are usually sent in the Penn State News newsletter every day.
These newsletters might go straight to the junk folder, or students may choose not to read them, making it easy to miss imperative information related to health and safety. Some Penn Staters might still be unaware of the monkeypox case altogether because of this.
Former Penn State President Eric Barron used to send letters to students’ personal emails when an issue like this arose, and something as simple as that from current President Neeli Bendapudi could have been more comforting to students.
At a large institution like Penn State, it’s almost impossible to take precautions against illnesses, considering dorms and the prominence of nightlife in downtown State College. Students seem to constantly get sick when they’re in such close quarters on campus already, and viruses and colds are even more apparent at the beginning of each semester.
Though it might not be feasible to reimplement social distancing, the university should at least have a plan to disinfect chairs and desks students are using — especially in the warmer weather when many are wearing shorts.
While there’s currently only one monkeypox case, there could be more that have gone unreported. The university said on-campus students with symptoms should prepare to finish the long isolation period at home after moving into an isolation space.
For those who live a flight or bus ride away, it’s nearly impossible for them to travel with the virus. However, Penn State said students will be able to work with Student Affairs if they are not able to travel home.
Additionally, students who live off campus are not required to quarantine in the isolation spaces, which could potentially put roommates and others close to them at risk.
There should definitely be a Zoom or other virtual learning option available for those who do need to quarantine from monkeypox since missing class and lectures for multiple weeks will likely put students very far behind education-wise.
Right now, almost all classes are in person, with a select few online, and in big lecture halls, students are basically sitting on top of one another. Students might feel safer if Penn State implemented clear education options for those who test positive.
If not, it’s further discouraging for students to report their positive case due to sigma and uneasiness surrounding the aftermath. Penn State might be attempting to push it under the rug to avoid a public relations situation — especially with football games creeping up very soon.
Amid the outbreak of the monkeypox virus, the rumors of it being a sexually transmitted disease for sexually active men in the LGBTQ community can lead to harmful, homophobic assumptions based on ignorance.
The university needs to address and educate the Penn State community to avoid this. It needs to spread awareness and facts related to the virus to reduce the growing stigma.
It’s important for people to know and be aware of safe sexual practices. Penn State could make a frequently asked questions document accessible for students to debunk the myths surrounding monkeypox and educate the community.
Faculty and staff should also be talking about the situation more, as many haven’t said anything or have lightly mentioned the virus to a room full of crowded students — with no cleaning supplies in sight.
Should there be more cases, Penn State must take this monkeypox seriously moving forward so students can continue their education in a healthy way.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Kit Schroder can be reached at [email protected].
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