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      Closure of Universities Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Impact on Education and Mental Health of Students and Academic Staff

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      coronavirus, covid-19, outbreak, pandemic, education, mental health, universities

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          Abstract

          The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), originated in Wuhan city of China, has spread rapidly around the world, sending billions of people into lockdown. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus epidemic a pandemic. In light of rising concern about the current COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of universities across the world have either postponed or canceled all campus events such as workshops, conferences, sports, and other activities. Universities are taking intensive measures to prevent and protect all students and staff members from the highly infectious disease. Faculty members are already in the process of transitioning to online teaching platforms. In this review, the author will highlight the potential impact of the terrible COVID-19 outbreak on the education and mental health of students and academic staff.

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          Timely mental health care for the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is urgently needed

          The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pneumonia, believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China at the end of 2019, has gained intense attention nationwide and globally. To lower the risk of further disease transmission, the authority in Wuhan suspended public transport indefinitely from Jan 23, 2020; similar measures were adopted soon in many other cities in China. As of Jan 25, 2020, 30 Chinese provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions covering over 1·3 billion people have initiated first-level responses to major public health emergencies. A range of measures has been urgently adopted,1, 2 such as early identification and isolation of suspected and diagnosed cases, contact tracing and monitoring, collection of clinical data and biological samples from patients, dissemination of regional and national diagnostic criteria and expert treatment consensus, establishment of isolation units and hospitals, and prompt provision of medical supplies and external expert teams to Hubei province. The emergence of the 2019-nCoV pneumonia has parallels with the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which was caused by another coronavirus that killed 349 of 5327 patients with confirmed infection in China. 3 Although the diseases have different clinical presentations,1, 4 the infectious cause, epidemiological features, fast transmission pattern, and insufficient preparedness of health authorities to address the outbreaks are similar. So far, mental health care for the patients and health professionals directly affected by the 2019-nCoV epidemic has been under-addressed, although the National Health Commission of China released the notification of basic principles for emergency psychological crisis interventions for the 2019-nCoV pneumonia on Jan 26, 2020. 5 This notification contained a reference to mental health problems and interventions that occurred during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and mentioned that mental health care should be provided for patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonitis, close contacts, suspected cases who are isolated at home, patients in fever clinics, families and friends of affected people, health professionals caring for infected patients, and the public who are in need. To date, epidemiological data on the mental health problems and psychiatric morbidity of those suspected or diagnosed with the 2019-nCoV and their treating health professionals have not been available; therefore how best to respond to challenges during the outbreak is unknown. The observations of mental health consequences and measures taken during the 2003 SARS outbreak could help inform health authorities and the public to provide mental health interventions to those who are in need. Patients with confirmed or suspected 2019-nCoV may experience fear of the consequences of infection with a potentially fatal new virus, and those in quarantine might experience boredom, loneliness, and anger. Furthermore, symptoms of the infection, such as fever, hypoxia, and cough, as well as adverse effects of treatment, such as insomnia caused by corticosteroids, could lead to worsening anxiety and mental distress. 2019-nCoV has been repeatedly described as a killer virus, for example on WeChat, which has perpetuated the sense of danger and uncertainty among health workers and the public. In the early phase of the SARS outbreak, a range of psychiatric morbidities, including persistent depression, anxiety, panic attacks, psychomotor excitement, psychotic symptoms, delirium, and even suicidality, were reported.6, 7 Mandatory contact tracing and 14 days quarantine, which form part of the public health responses to the 2019-nCoV pneumonia outbreak, could increase patients' anxiety and guilt about the effects of contagion, quarantine, and stigma on their families and friends. Health professionals, especially those working in hospitals caring for people with confirmed or suspected 2019-nCoV pneumonia, are vulnerable to both high risk of infection and mental health problems. They may also experience fear of contagion and spreading the virus to their families, friends, or colleagues. Health workers in a Beijing hospital who were quarantined, worked in high-risk clinical settings such as SARS units, or had family or friends who were infected with SARS, had substantially more post-traumatic stress symptoms than those without these experiences. 8 Health professionals who worked in SARS units and hospitals during the SARS outbreak also reported depression, anxiety, fear, and frustration.6, 9 Despite the common mental health problems and disorders found among patients and health workers in such settings, most health professionals working in isolation units and hospitals do not receive any training in providing mental health care. Timely mental health care needs to be developed urgently. Some methods used in the SARS outbreak could be helpful for the response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak. First, multidisciplinary mental health teams established by health authorities at regional and national levels (including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, and other mental health workers) should deliver mental health support to patients and health workers. Specialised psychiatric treatments and appropriate mental health services and facilities should be provided for patients with comorbid mental disorders. Second, clear communication with regular and accurate updates about the 2019-nCoV outbreak should be provided to both health workers and patients in order to address their sense of uncertainty and fear. Treatment plans, progress reports, and health status updates should be given to both patients and their families. Third, secure services should be set up to provide psychological counselling using electronic devices and applications (such as smartphones and WeChat) for affected patients, as well as their families and members of the public. Using safe communication channels between patients and families, such as smartphone communication and WeChat, should be encouraged to decrease isolation. Fourth, suspected and diagnosed patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonia as well as health professionals working in hospitals caring for infected patients should receive regular clinical screening for depression, anxiety, and suicidality by mental health workers. Timely psychiatric treatments should be provided for those presenting with more severe mental health problems. For most patients and health workers, emotional and behavioural responses are part of an adaptive response to extraordinary stress, and psychotherapy techniques such as those based on the stress-adaptation model might be helpful.7, 10 If psychotropic medications are used, such as those prescribed by psychiatrists for severe psychiatric comorbidities, 6 basic pharmacological treatment principles of ensuring minimum harm should be followed to reduce harmful effects of any interactions with 2019-nCoV and its treatments. In any biological disaster, themes of fear, uncertainty, and stigmatisation are common and may act as barriers to appropriate medical and mental health interventions. Based on experience from past serious novel pneumonia outbreaks globally and the psychosocial impact of viral epidemics, the development and implementation of mental health assessment, support, treatment, and services are crucial and pressing goals for the health response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak. © 2020 VW Pics/Science Photo Library 2020 Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.
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            COVID-19 and Italy: what next?

            Summary The spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has already taken on pandemic proportions, affecting over 100 countries in a matter of weeks. A global response to prepare health systems worldwide is imperative. Although containment measures in China have reduced new cases by more than 90%, this reduction is not the case elsewhere, and Italy has been particularly affected. There is now grave concern regarding the Italian national health system's capacity to effectively respond to the needs of patients who are infected and require intensive care for SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia. The percentage of patients in intensive care reported daily in Italy between March 1 and March 11, 2020, has consistently been between 9% and 11% of patients who are actively infected. The number of patients infected since Feb 21 in Italy closely follows an exponential trend. If this trend continues for 1 more week, there will be 30 000 infected patients. Intensive care units will then be at maximum capacity; up to 4000 hospital beds will be needed by mid-April, 2020. Our analysis might help political leaders and health authorities to allocate enough resources, including personnel, beds, and intensive care facilities, to manage the situation in the next few days and weeks. If the Italian outbreak follows a similar trend as in Hubei province, China, the number of newly infected patients could start to decrease within 3–4 days, departing from the exponential trend. However, this cannot currently be predicted because of differences between social distancing measures and the capacity to quickly build dedicated facilities in China.
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              COVID-19: towards controlling of a pandemic

              During the past 3 weeks, new major epidemic foci of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), some without traceable origin, have been identified and are rapidly expanding in Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East, with the first confirmed cases being identified in African and Latin American countries. By March 16, 2020, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China had increased drastically and the number of affected countries, states, or territories reporting infections to WHO was 143. 1 On the basis of ”alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction”, on March 11, 2020, the Director-General of WHO characterised the COVID-19 situation as a pandemic. 2 The WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH) regularly reviews and updates its risk assessment of COVID-19 to make recommendations to the WHO health emergencies programme. STAG-IH's most recent formal meeting on March 12, 2020, included an update of the global COVID-19 situation and an overview of the research priorities established by the WHO Research and Development Blueprint Scientific Advisory Group that met on March 2, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland, to prioritise the recommendations of an earlier meeting on COVID-19 research held in early February, 2020. 3 In this Comment, we outline STAG-IH's understanding of control activities with the group's risk assessment and recommendations. To respond to COVID-19, many countries are using a combination of containment and mitigation activities with the intention of delaying major surges of patients and levelling the demand for hospital beds, while protecting the most vulnerable from infection, including elderly people and those with comorbidities. Activities to accomplish these goals vary and are based on national risk assessments that many times include estimated numbers of patients requiring hospitalisation and availability of hospital beds and ventilation support. Most national response strategies include varying levels of contact tracing and self-isolation or quarantine; promotion of public health measures, including handwashing, respiratory etiquette, and social distancing; preparation of health systems for a surge of severely ill patients who require isolation, oxygen, and mechanical ventilation; strengthening health facility infection prevention and control, with special attention to nursing home facilities; and postponement or cancellation of large-scale public gatherings. Some lower-income and middle-income countries require technical and financial support to successfully respond to COVID-19, and many African, Asian, and Latin American nations are rapidly developing the capacity for PCR testing for COVID-19. Based on more than 500 genetic sequences submitted to GISAID (the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data), the virus has not drifted to significant strain difference and changes in sequence are minimal. There is no evidence to link sequence information with transmissibility or virulence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), 1 the virus that causes COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2, like other emerging high-threat pathogens, has infected health-care workers in China4, 5 and several other countries. To date, however, in China, where infection prevention and control was taken seriously, nosocomial transmission has not been a major amplifier of transmission in this epidemic. Epidemiological records in China suggest that up to 85% of human-to-human transmission has occurred in family clusters 4 and that 2055 health-care workers have become infected, with an absence of major nosocomial outbreaks and some supporting evidence that some health-care workers acquired infection in their families.4, 5 These findings suggest that close and unprotected exposure is required for transmission by direct contact or by contact with fomites in the immediate environment of those with infection. Continuing reports from outside China suggest the same means of transmission to close contacts and persons who attended the same social events or were in circumscribed areas such as office spaces or cruise ships.6, 7 Intensified case finding and contact tracing are considered crucial by most countries and are being undertaken to attempt to locate cases and to stop onward transmission. Confirmation of infection at present consists of PCR for acute infection, and although many serological tests to identify antibodies are being developed they require validation with well characterised sera before they are reliable for general use. From studies of viral shedding in patients with mild and more severe infections, shedding seems to be greatest during the early phase of disease (Myoung-don Oh and Gabriel Leung, WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, School of Public Health, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, China, personal communication).8, 9 The role, if any, of asymptomatic carriers in transmitting infection is not yet completely understood. 4 Presymptomatic infectiousness is a concern (Myoung-don Oh and Gabriel Leung, personal communication)8, 9 and many countries are now using 1–2 days of symptom onset as the start day for contact identification. A comprehensive report published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the epidemiological characteristics of 72 314 patients with COVID-19 confirmed previous understanding that most known infections cause mild disease, with a case fatality ratio that ranged from 2·9% in Hubei province to 0·4% in the other Chinese provinces. 5 This report also suggested that elderly people, particularly those older than 80 years, and people with comorbidities, such as cardiac disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes, are at greatest risk of serious disease and death. The case definition used in China changed several times as COVID-19 progressed, making it difficult to completely characterise the natural history of infection, including the mortality ratio. 4 Information on mortality and contributing factors from outbreak sites in other countries varies greatly, and seems to be influenced by such factors as age of patients, associated comorbidities, availability of isolation facilities for acute care for patients who need respiratory support, and surge capacity of the health-care system. Individuals in care facilities for older people are at particular risk of serious disease as shown in the report of a series of deaths in an elderly care facility in the USA. 10 The pandemic of COVID-19 has clearly entered a new stage with rapid spread in countries outside China and all members of society must understand and practise measures for self-protection and for prevention of transmission of infection to others. STAG-IH makes the following recommendations. First, countries need to rapidly and robustly increase their preparedness, readiness, and response actions based on their national risk assessment and the four WHO transmission scenarios 11 for countries with no cases, first cases, first clusters, and community transmission and spread (4Cs). Second, all countries should consider a combination of response measures: case and contact finding; containment or other measures that aim to delay the onset of patient surges where feasible; and measures such as public awareness, promotion of personal protective hygiene, preparation of health systems for a surge of severely ill patients, stronger infection prevention and control in health facilities, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities, and postponement or cancellation of large-scale public gatherings. Third, countries with no or a few first cases of COVID-19 should consider active surveillance for timely case finding; isolate, test, and trace every contact in containment; practise social distancing; and ready their health-care systems and populations for spread of infection. Fourth, lower-income and middle-income countries that request support from WHO should be fully supported technically and financially. Financial support should be sought by countries and by WHO, including from the World Bank Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility and other mechanisms. 12 Finally, research gaps about COVID-19 should be addressed and are shown in the accompanying panel and include some identified by the global community and by the Research and Development Blueprint Scientific Advisory Group. Panel Research gaps that need to be addressed for the response to COVID-19 • Fill gaps in understanding of the natural history of infection to better define the period of infectiousness and transmissibility; more accurately estimate the reproductive number in various outbreak settings and improve understanding the role of asymptomatic infection. • Comparative analysis of different quarantine strategies and contexts for their effectiveness and social acceptability • Enhance and develop an ethical framework for outbreak response that includes better equity for access to interventions for all countries • Promote the development of point-of-care diagnostic tests • Determine the best ways to apply knowledge about infection prevention and control in health-care settings in resource-constrained countries (including identification of optimal personal protective equipment) and in the broader community, specifically to understand behaviour among different vulnerable groups • Support standardised, best evidence-based approach for clinical management and better outcomes and implement randomised, controlled trials for therapeutics and vaccines as promising agents emerge • Validation of existing serological tests, including those that have been developed by commercial entities, and establishment of biobanks and serum panels of well characterised COVID-19 sera to support such efforts • Complete work on animal models for vaccine and therapeutic research and development The STAG-IH emphasises the importance of the continued rapid sharing of data of public health importance in medical journals that provide rapid peer review and online publication without a paywall. It is sharing of information in this way, as well as technical collaboration among clinicians, epidemiologists, and virologists, that has provided the world with its current understanding of COVID-19.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Cureus
                Cureus
                2168-8184
                Cureus
                Cureus (Palo Alto (CA) )
                2168-8184
                4 April 2020
                April 2020
                : 12
                : 4
                : e7541
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Medical Education and Simulation, Centre for Medical Sciences Education, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, TTO
                Author notes
                Article
                10.7759/cureus.7541
                7198094
                32377489
                47760bc6-cf7c-4244-b6cb-244c76bfdcfa
                Copyright © 2020, Sahu et al.

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                History
                : 30 March 2020
                : 4 April 2020
                Categories
                Medical Education
                Psychology

                coronavirus,covid-19,outbreak,pandemic,education,mental health,universities

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