A flyer that is being passed around the American University in Dubai campus about health practices to do to prevent coronavirus on February 10 2020. Mais Othman.

The Coronavirus on Campus: How Much Should We Worry?

“Coronavirus” was the first word that came on Mariana’s mind when she suddenly felt sick after the U.A.E. announced its first cases of coronavirus. She recalls immediately going to the hospital, missing a day of university and work. She spent the night at the hospital, only for the tests to reveal that she was not infected with the virus. Mariana, of course, felt relieved and decided that some of her daily life’s habits were worth changing, in the name of staying clear from the coronavirus. 

Mariana Abou Haidar wearing a mask in a hallway of a building in the American University in Dubai on February 10, 2020. Mais Othman.

“I started drinking garlic and honey shots to raise my immune system, and I bought masks and gloves to wear them all day. Until now, I don’t shake hands or get close to anyone,” says Mariana Abou Haidar, a 19-year-old Lebanese student at the American University in Dubai. “I also keep sanitizer products with me, and stopped using the metro, because I’m still scared. I’d rather take a cab, and pay all my allowance money on it.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak was announced, several AUD students were seen wearing masks on campus. AUD also started sending emails –four in total– to its students, staff, and faculty, announcing the addition of sanitizers across campus, more cleaning measures, along with tips on health practices. Some people on campus believe that such measures are necessary to be taken by the university to reassure the students, and some believe that this is exaggerating the coronavirus issue in the U.A.E.

One of the many sanitizers placed around the American University in Dubai campus on February 10, 2020. Mais Othman.

“It’s a way of reassuring students, because the university has to send and inform their students. Also, they added something new in each email, so they weren’t the same,” said Mariana. “I now see the cleaners on campus really cleaning more, and even when I went to the nurse one day, she gave me a mask, so the university’s trying to do as much as it can.”

 Nelly Halabi, the university’s health center director, recalls three students rushing into her office to get masks when the coronavirus was becoming known. She explained that they don’t need masks if they themselves weren’t sick, but if the students insisted on getting a mask, she gave it to them to calm them down. She also mentions the need for sending students multiple emails about this topic not only to calm them down, but also because many students don’t read the emails they receive, and many are unaware of the virus too.

Nelly Halabi sitting in her office at the American University in Dubai on February 10, 2020. Mais Othman.

“We tried sending out posters and emails. I also went to some classes to talk about the virus with students, and I’m now waiting for a doctor’s confirmation to organize a lecture about the virus on campus,” says Ms. Halabi in an interview. “We had two trips to South Korea and Japan for students, and I had a meeting with the president to cancel them. We also sent an email asking those on campus who visited China to keep us posted, so we are doing all our best to spread awareness on campus.”

Dr. David Schmidt sitting in his office at the American University in Dubai on February 10, 2020. Mais Othman.

 Dr. David Schmidt, the university’s president, adds to the discussion on AUD’s precautions when it comes to coronavirus. “As an institution within a large city, we are definitely concerned and vigilant about it. Particularly because we are a campus, where we have commuters that come and go, we’re not blind to it,” says Dr. Schmidt in an interview. “We were really sensitive to not causing panic, so the first two emails never used the word ‘coronavirus,’ just health practices. At the end of the day, our job is to protect our students.”

 Yasmine Naccache, a 20-year-old Lebanese AUD student, is more critical about the way the university and students are reacting to the coronavirus. “I think it’s being blown out of proportion, because, yes, there are nationalities from all around the world in the UAE, but what is the likelihood that you come in contact with someone who has coronavirus? The mask is just adding another layer of worry that intensifies the situation to make it seem bigger than it is,” says Yasmine in an interview. “Also, sending emails everyday to students about the virus is not as effective as the university would like it to be, and it’s just redundant and weak at this point, because I saw the first email about coronavirus, and then the second one, but what are the third and fourth for?”

Yasmine Naccache posing in a class at the American University in Dubai on February 9, 2020. Mais Othman.

Mariana believes that the coronavirus is still something to be worried about, and she believes that AUD should keep up what it’s doing about the coronavirus. “I want AUD to send us another email soon with the latest updates about this disease to inform us more, since it feels like somehow, many forgot about it,” says Mariana as her eyes widen.

Edited by: Raghad Murad

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