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Students share their take on the global spread of COVID-19

A photo of a near-empty street in Boston at night.

The BYU–Hawaii campus was abuzz with news of cancelled classes and member gatherings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as students and staff expressed concerns about hoarding and the way the coronavirus has changed everyday life.

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. As stores show empty shelves of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and non-perishables, students shared their reactions to the worldwide outbreak.

As of Monday, March 23, the number of coronavirus cases in the state of Hawaii has risen to 77, with more than 500 deaths in the United States and thousands across the globe, according to Hawaii News Now.

As a member of the custodial staff at BYUH, Quiana Manuwai thinks the way people are reacting is crazy. She said people are going out and buying far more sanitary products than they would ever need and taking it out of the hands of those who need it more. “I think they just need to calm down,” she shared as she explained her concern for those who are at high-risk for the pandemic.

According to Dr. Glenda Grawe, an emergency room doctor from Alaska, the panic around the coronavirus has led to more people going to the emergency room when it is unnecessary. She said even though more people are not sick, they are scared. However, by going to the ER people are exposing themselves to the virus they would not have otherwise, perpetuating the spread.

What large entities, like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Church, have done is incredibly smart, Grawe said. Comparing the healthcare system to a water pipe she said, “As the water is flowing in a regular consistent amount, the pipe can handle it. But if you get a certain big surge of water, it's going to flow up and over and around the pipe.” By taking steps to slow the spread of the virus, she said, the healthcare system will hopefully not become overwhelmed.

Having kept up with the spread of the virus since January, Garnet Canite, a senior from the Philippines studying business, said he did not expect the virus to spread so quickly. He said he thought “China would do a good job quarantining it, but then I heard it was in Italy.”

Enna Hendrickson, a freshman from Hawaii studying political science, said her understanding of coronavirus has changed over the months, especially over the last week. She said, “When it first began, it was kind of like a distant thing, and then it became a meme. It was just an internet thing, and then since last week it has actually [felt] like a threat.”

According to Hendrickson, the severity of the virus is bad and the mass panic around the virus is leading people to hoard resources. “The way people are reacting to it is really dangerous. One person will have like 30 things of toilet paper and other people don't have any.”

The CDC has released information on its website with an outline of the best way for people to protect themselves and others. Since there is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus, the website warns people to stay away from the potential of catching the virus.

The CDC said people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their face. To protect others, the CDC recommends people should stay home if they are feeling sick and avoid close contact with other people.

Basic hygiene is key, said Grawe. She said to stay home from work if you feel sick at all. “That doesn't mean taking two Tylenol and going to work because you feel better after. If you feel the need to take the Tylenol, don’t go to work.”

Following the recommendations of the CDC, the Church has taken measures to combat the virus. Assuring members, Church leaders sent an email saying, “We continue to monitor the changing conditions related to COVID-19 throughout the world. We have considered the counsel of local Church leaders, government officials and medical professionals, and have sought the Lord’s guidance in these matters.”

So far, in addition to cancelling church meetings, Church leaders have also moved the 190th Semi-Annual General Conference to a strictly online meeting. They also supported the Church Education System schools’ choice to have online classes for the rest of the semester. Leaders also tightened the regulations about how temples can operate until further notice. They announced the relocation of thousands of missionaries to their home countries in addition to missionary training being held online.

Hendrickson said the measures being taken by the Church has shown her the pandemic is actually a threat. “If they hadn't [done this]," she explained, she wouldn't have taken the pandemic seriously.

At the previous General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson said the April conference would be “unlike any other” in history. Canite said when he first heard him say that, he thought it meant there would be changes or even new scriptures revealed. However, when coronavirus started to spread globally, Canite said the message shared kept flooding back into his mind.

Because of the way members have been prepared, not just with home-centered church, but by encouraging emergency preparedness, Canite said Church members should be able to avoid all of the craziness. “Whenever I see movies like ‘Contagion,’ I say they never show the [Church member] perspective.”