Concern and Anger Fester After Virus

Chanho Kim, ’19

With the August outbreak of the norovirus in school, the students were angry about a few things: angry that they had to suffer and miss out on all the exciting club activities that flourish at the beginning of each semester; angry that they had to miss lessons that could not be made up; but certainly the most angry that there were apparent delays in formulating an action plan while students struggled with severe symptoms.

In retrospect, there are a few issues to consider. Firstly, the mistakes in forming the lists of sick students’: in an interview with a student who was sick at the time (who preferred to remain anonymous), we discovered that some students had not been recorded on the “sick” students list. As the interviewee said, “This is the first time I saw the official list of sick students and I’m not on it! Nor are a few of my friends who visited the infirmary. I don’t understand how the school missed us.” Secondly, and more fundamentally, many students had to watch and wait as more and more sick students emerged without the slightest warning that usually precedes many diseases.

This disappointment explains the results from the recent survey conducted by The Harbinger, which demonstrated that about 62% of students believed that the school’s response was either “terrible” or “poor.” Less than 10% believed that the school reacted in a marginally adequate way. In addition to the raw statistics, the free response section of the survey revealed more discontent, with students writing that they were appalled by the “school hiding the truth” and offering numerous accounts about how the school tried to conceal the mass outbreak. Whether or not this is true, a significant number of students seemed dissatisfied with the school’s response. Even those who did not contract the disease protested that they had to worry until Friday that week, when an announcement, deemed late by over 81% of students, was made.

Though the school claims to have followed the Gyeonggi Office of Education’s standard protocols, it is clear that students generally felt vulnerable in this kind of situation. Despite the false rumors that spread during this period, it is still worth noting that students were really “in the dark,” with no official reference point, as one survey response stated. Many students perceiving that the school’s announcement was late is a meaningful result, since there appears to have been a demand for more communication during the actual outbreak.

In a Korea that repeatedly learns harsh lessons about the need for stricter security proto-
cols through medical events like the 2015 MERS outbreak and a spread of tuberculosis among a large number of students at a high school in Incheon, individuals cannot simply wait for the entire system to change—they must take initiative and act. And as a boarding school, HAFS had the foremost responsibility to act responsibly. But many of the students appear to have been disappointed. Perhaps this relatively small scale incident serves as a warning for the future. The Harbinger hopes first that no such outbreak occurs again but if it does, that the school acts more responsively so that students are not as fearful next time.

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