On Sunday, Feb. 2, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) reacted drastically to the growing cases of novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong campus closed, and they moved all classes to an eLearning model for the rest of the quarter. SCAD gave two options for impacted students: Remain in their enrolled courses, or opt to “discontinue their studies for this quarter and take advantage of a free retake of the same course in a future quarter at any SCAD location.” Online classes resumed on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The decision came shortly after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, issued a state of emergency and suspended classes for all kindergarten, primary and secondary schools.

These options fail to provide assistance for seniors and graduate students intending to graduate in the winter or spring quarters. As a SCAD District reporter, I reached out to SCAD Hong Kong and SCAD Savannah but received no response. SCAD left a lot to be desired in its responses and quickly took my article down.

In an email on Feb. 13, SCAD said that students who visit mainland China “will not be permitted to return to a SCAD location until further notice.” The decision came shortly after the U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory to China. SCAD’s largest demographic is from China.

View Full Email to Students

What is the Coronavirus

The first person contracted the novel coronavirus, Dec. 1, in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China–the outbreak’s epicenter. Contrary to initial assessments, the virus did not start in the Huanan seafood market, but it spread there. The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that the virus–now declared a global emergency–traveled from animal to human like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) did.

The seafood market sold a plethora of exotic meats, including civets–the SARS transmitter in 2003. Researchers, in 2006, found a genetic link between SARS in civets and SARS in humans, backed with evidence by WHO and Chinese authorities. SARS originated in the Guangdong Province, well known for its exotic meat markets, especially in Guangzhou; however, Wuhan is not known for exotic trade, nor is it prevalent anywhere else in the country.

After reports that the virus never originated at the market, fingers point to the Wuhan Virology Institute — the first National Bio-safety Laboratory in mainland China. The laboratory studies SARS, Ebola, and the West African Lassa virus. Citizens base their concerns on a previous virus leak in China; the SARS epidemic escaped a Beijing lab — twice. The Chinese health ministry sealed off the lab when investigations were still ongoing. The journal, Nature, in 2017, wrote on scientists’ concerns about whether another SARS outbreak could happen again in Wuhan.

Before the quarantine, Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, announced an estimated 5 million people escaped the city. The Chinese government knew of 27 infections before announcing to WHO on Dec. 31; China then quarantined the entire city of 11 million people, Jan. 23, after 80 deaths. To impede any further spread of the virus, the government expanded the Lunar New Year to Feb. 2, which set back travel dates for people returning to work.

As of Feb. 18, 1,872 people have died in China, with 72,533 cases spanning every province in the country. The New York Times and other media organizations accused Chinese authorities of under-reporting the virus, though WHO has praised China for its transparency. Hospitals in China are quickly running out of kits and turning away patients to quarantine themselves at home. Those not tested that die — or die at home — may not make the official death count. The New York Times reported a woman’s death certificate — not tested for the virus; She had quickly succumbed to a sudden pneumonia illness and was cremated without a coronavirus victim label.

The Virus in Hong Kong

The severity of the coronavirus weighs heavily on the minds of those impacted 17 years ago by SARS: 1,750 cases and 286 deaths over a brief, three-month period. The Hong Kong Government is barring people who visited the Hubei province in the past 14 days from entering the territory a day after Macao issued the same restriction. The Chinese National Immigration Authority suspended accepting and approving visas for mainland residents entering Hong Kong and Macau.

Luckily, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of the infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong isolated COVID-19 for a vaccine. It will then undergo animal testing and may be available for humans in a year — Hong Kong is still susceptible to the virus until then. As of now, Hong Kong has seen 15 cases of coronavirus on its soil. “The [Hong Kong government] should’ve just shut down the border completely instead of leaving it partially open. A single infected person is enough to cause an outbreak,” said Jonathan Yuen, a fourth-year student. Other students shared similar opinions, saying that the government’s response is poor and slow to react.

Hong Kong faces a shortage of face masks and other preventive items such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer, ASTM Lvl.2, and 3M 9501 masks. “Absolute [none], the last time I saw them, they were still available around Jan. 20,” said Hilary ng, a graduate student at SCAD.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority (HA), which manages all government hospitals, said they have three-months of face masks left. Face masks started trickling into the territory, drawing massive crowds wherever they are available. The HA imposed stricter visiting procedures, such as banning visitors under 12 and limiting hours. The fear of the virus spreading from hospitals affects Hilary: “I cannot visit my grandfather who’s currently staying in [the] hospital, [my family and I] are really worried about his health status.” The immense strain on Hong Kong hospitals resulted in a strike, with 5,000 HA employees walking away from their jobs. The strike intends to pressuring Carrie Lam to make masks mandatory and ban visitors from mainland China.

Responses to Virtual Classrooms

Though the previous SCAD students understood the importance of suspending physical classes, the move to an eLearning model still brought frustration. “Not everyone has decent internet, especially the ones who live in [a] dorm. Without decent internet, your presentations would end up being choppy,” Yuen said.

However, none of the interviewed students thought virtual classrooms were an appropriate substitute for on-ground classes. The Hong Kong campus has seen countless interruptions due to the relentless anti-government protests. Read my breakdown of the Hong Kong protests in SCAD District. The Baptist University, Polytechnic University, and the University of Hong Kong have all suspended classes until March 2 in response to the outbreak; SCAD followed suit by suspending all on-ground classes until the next quarter.

People clearing the supermarket aisles in Hong Kong – Image courtesy of Hilary ng

SCAD’s Response

Dozens of emails distributed by the university omits any plan for students who need certain SCAD facilities for their thesis, such as requiring VR and lighting studio equipment. SCAD has no plan for graduating students impacted by this, leaving them to fend for themselves.

SCAD District is a student-led newspaper owned by the university, and thus the content is owned by the university. But the job of content creators and journalists is to relay important information — an aspect SCAD fails in its response to the coronavirus. The quarter is ending, and the virus is still ongoing. SCAD refuses to acknowledge that a contingency plan may exist even if the viral threat still lingers next quarter. The lack of transparency questions the Hong Kong campus’s stability and, by proxy, the degrees of those graduating there. Hong Kong is far more volatile than before, and SCAD risks losing students to other campuses or universities.

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