Southern Miss reacts to chorale return, coronavirus fear

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The Southern Chorale students performed at the Jeju International Choral Symposium in South Korea last week. The group returned on Sunday, Feb. 23. The following Monday, CDC announced a Level 3 traveling advisory, which recommends nonessential travel to South Korea. 

On Feb. 28, Southern Miss issued travel restrictions for all university faculty, staff and students to countries under Level 3 or Level 4 advisories.

In the same Feb. 28 press release, Southern Miss also released a statement concerning the coronavirus fears on campus. According to the statement, no chorale students have reported symptoms, but are encouraged to self-monitor for 14 days. The students have been described as being at low risk.

Despite the press release, concerns continue to rise about the group potentially contracting the coronavirus and bringing it to Mississippi. There has not yet been a coronavirus outbreak in the state.

“It is hard to predict the chances [of Southern Chorale contracting the virus] without knowing their traveling history, whom they contacted, whether they have been the epicenter of South Korea,” Fengwei Bai, Ph.D., said.

Bai works at Southern Miss as an associate professor in cell and molecular biology. Bai is also currently researching the coronavirus, which he described as having a fatality rate of less than 3%. He also said that most of the patients who died from the virus were older than 60 years old, or had pre-existing conditions that compromised their immunity.

“Since the CDC considers the risk of transmission of viruses in the U.S. to be low at this time, the general population should not panic but necessary cautions should be taken. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus,” Bai said.

Senior business management and economics major Rida Hassan-Bailey said she’s slightly worried about being exposed to the virus. 

“I’m a little scared, but not so much because I’m making sure I take all the necessary precautions. Also, because our age range is generally safe,” Hassan-Bailey said. “I think students should calm down, because it’s not going to be that bad for most people our age. But when you spread paranoia, you negatively impact the mental health of all students who are immune-compromised.”

One Southern Chorale student stated that the committee overseeing the international festival took precautionary efforts to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus. The student requested to remain anonymous.

“At the performance hall, they maintained a single entrance with two people in masks and gloves pumping hand sanitizer onto the hands of everyone as they entered. There was also a thermal camera that was manned at all times to detect any irregularities in body temperatures for possible fevers,” the student said. 

The student also described the international festival as a “wonderful, truly once-in-a-lifetime experience,” even in spite of the coronavirus threat.

The Southern Chorale celebrated returning to the United States with a free concert on Sunday at the Bay Street Presbyterian Church.