As the number of Cornell University students diagnosed with probable H1N1 influenza rose to approximately 450 Wednesday, the Inter-Fraternity Council enacted a seven-day moratorium on all its social events to help curb the spread of flu on campus.
“We have an obligation as leaders to take this seriously,” IFC President Eddie Rooker ’10 said. “I whole-heartedly think that this is a logical and reasonable step to take right now.”
The IFC’s action comes during a week that has been especially taxing on the university's resources as a result of the H1N1 outbreak.
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The increase in the number of students experiencing flu-like symptoms has produced an “extremely high” volume of patients calling and visiting the university's Gannett Health Services, which is causing “considerably longer” wait times, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett.
Earlier this week, Gannett officials were forced to temporarily suspend the scheduling of appointments for routine care due to the influx of flu-related patients. The health center remains open for pressing concerns, however.
Dittman emphasized that the approximately 450 students who have been been diagnosed with “probable H1N1 flu” as of Wednesday is not an accurate count of the number of students who are actually infected with H1N1.
“We have no way of knowing how many members of the community have had H1N1 flu,” she stated in an e-mail Wednesday night. “The number reflects only the number who have been evaluated and diagnosed as having probable H1N1 influenza. Confirmed H1N1 influenza requires laboratory testing, which is authorized by the health department in only a very limited number of circumstances.”
Dittman said that the H1N1 virus at Cornell has been causing "mild to moderate" symptoms in most people, who have been generally recovering within 4 to 7 days with self-care at home. However, she noted that Gannett had been coordinating with Cayuga Medical Center on a daily basis for students who require after hours care, emergency services and hospitalization.
At last night’s IFC meeting, university officials sought to brief some Greek student leaders on the flu outbreak.
Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, expressed concern over the general lack of alarm within the Greek community regarding flu prevention.
Christine Stallmann, Cornell’s director of environmental health and safety, advised IFC members to take precautionary measures within their own houses in the coming weeks to reduce the spread of swine flu.
“Really the best way to prevent the flu is your own personal hygiene. Make sure your houses have soap,” Stallmann said.
She further suggested that students thoroughly clean high-contact surfaces — such as doorknobs, remote controls and fridge handles—as the virus is passed via direct contact and is not airborne.
Stallmann praised the IFC leadership after the meeting, but stopped short of saying whether she thought the week-long party stoppage would be effective.
“They’re being proactive,” she said. “I think they’re asking the right kind of questions.”
Stallmann said that the Office of Environmental Health and Safety has been busy over the past few weeks training and educating employees in units like Campus Life and Building Care on how to modify their operations to prevent the spread of flu on campus. Her office also oversees the Cornell University Emergency Medical Service, which has received a slight, but not significant, increase in calls this week, she said.
Though the moratorium on social events passed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, some students expressed concerns with the necessity and effectiveness of the resolution.
“Swine flu is not an issue in our house. We were going to have a party this weekend but now people will be afraid to come next weekend,” said an IFC member who wished to remain anonymous.
Steven Wald ’12 who had been planning Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity’s annual party for this weekend and attended last night’s meeting, expressed concern over the moratorium and said there was a mixed reaction within his fraternity to the decision last night.
“Every one acknowledges that swine flu is serious. It’s not something to mess around with. I think the IFC had great intentions, but I voted against it. I’m not sure how effective it will be. There’s no way to stop people from going off-campus.”
Wald added that he thought that the IFC should have deferred to the decision-making of individual houses to determine whether social events need to be cancelled rather than producing an across-the-board ruling.
President Rooker responded to some of the dissenting voices by underlining the importance of the moratorium at the end of the meeting.
“If we can take a serious step like this, then people are going to know this is serious," Rooker said. "We can control what kind of environments we’re providing. I know we like social events, but we need to take a step back.”
Erika Hooker contributed reporting to this story.