March 21, 2020
Dear VCU students,
When you came to VCU, you and your families entrusted us to provide the best educational experience and to ensure a healthy and safe environment for everyone, including you and your classmates.
I am asking for your help. There has never been a more critical time than now to think and act in ways that benefit the community of which you are a part.
In many cases, COVID-19 has been circulated by asymptomatic people who don’t know they are infected. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says many cases have been spread by someone who appears and feels healthy themselves. Some reports say that—unlike previous viral outbreaks—asymptomatic people are actually “the drivers of spread in the community.”
You are part of a large and diverse community where not everyone is healthy and strong. Some of your friends, neighbors, and classmates may be immunocompromised or have conditions that COVID-19 can substantially worsen, and their friends, neighbors, and classmates may have such conditions. Your youthfulness and healthiness do not make someone else immune. COVID-19 is highly communicable among every population, and even if you show no symptoms yourself, you can still transmit the illness to someone else.
As the director-general of the World Health Organization said Friday, “This coronavirus could put you in the hospital for weeks, or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”
Healthcare experts have told us repeatedly in the last few weeks that COVID-19 is not the same as the “regular” flu. It’s much stronger and, sadly, much deadlier, including for young adults.
Consider the following:
- More than one-third of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past month have been young people. The official leading our nation’s response to the epidemic said “young people are getting … very seriously ill” because they “are not taking the virus seriously.”
- The CDC now says young people are more susceptible than once believed, and we’ve seen this to be true across Europe. Despite a nationwide lockdown in Italy, conditions have deteriorated, with more than 600 deaths on Friday alone.
- More than half of COVID-19 patients (53%) in American ICUs are young people.
- As COVID-19 swept through China, young people there died at a 10 times higher rate than what’s typical for influenza. The director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute has said “everybody has risk. Even in young people, there is a percentage that has serious infection.”
Though your college experience should be enjoyable and engaging, now is not the time for social gatherings. Now is the time to protect yourself and each other. Now is the time for social distancing, even if you’re asymptomatic and even if you don’t feel at risk personally because you’re young and healthy. We’re in this together. Let’s take care of each other.
I look forward to seeing you all in person soon. In the meantime, I appreciate the exceptional steps we are all taking together during these unprecedented times and I’m grateful to all of you for your support of our entire community.
Michael Rao, Ph.D.
President, VCU and the VCU Health System