Town hall on health, safety touches on steps to implement testing, contact tracing in fall semester
Grand Valley leaders provided a glimpse into the preparations of opening a campus under the shadow of COVID-19 during a town hall July 23 for faculty and staff members focused on health and safety measures.
President Philomena V. Mantella acknowledged that not all the answers are known but did promise all decisions have been made and policies implemented with safety as the top concern. Mantella added safety is a shared responsibility among all students, faculty and staff members.
"Everyone must do their part," Mantella said. "Leadership must set the tone and act when necessary. We need to model behavior and monitor it closely. This has manifest itself into everyone's work."
Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration, said Grand Valley has evolved from the days in late winter of managing a crisis to implementing a task force to recommend and guide decisions on safely repopulating a campus.
Sanial also said a firm, Boston Consulting Group, has been hired to guide university leaders through COVID-19 testing, tracing and tracking procedures, and plans for isolation and quarantine of students. More details will be forthcoming but some factors are known, including making 60 beds on campus available for on-campus students who need to be isolated.
Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for Health, said she and others are working with Kent and Ottawa health departments and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on a robust plan for on-campus testing, tracing cases and rapid delivery of COVID-19 test results. Nagelkerk said there will be a 24/7 COVID-19 call and resource center available to the campus community.
Students who test positive and need to quarantine or become sick and need to isolate will be supported. Provost Maria Cimitile said faculty members will make accommodations similar to policies already in place for students who need incompletes or medical withdrawals. This information is on the Provost's Office website.
Cimitile addressed why the academic calendar has not been altered for the fall semester.
"We can't predict when or if this virus will hit our campus," she said. "We decided to go ahead with the calendar that was consistent. If we do have a problem, we can change course and are prepared with an online pedagogy."
Tina Barnikow, senior director for health, reviewed the online self-assessment required before coming on campus and stressed how important it is for data. A link on the Lakers Together website will help campus community members bookmark the self-assessment on their mobile devices.
"The data from the self-assessment is maintained securely with limited access, and will help identify emerging trends easily," Barnikow said.
Ed Aboufadel, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, discussed compliance for face coverings. Face coverings that cover the mouth and nose are required indoors; face coverings are required outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
Aboufadel said community members will be asked to educate, remedy and help enforce this policy on campus. "When you educate, it's gentle reminders, sharing links to the tool kit or face coverings policy," he said. "Remedy is offering a disposable face covering, which will be available in offices on campus."
Mantella said 90 percent of students who answered a recent pulse survey said they desired an in-person academic experience.
"We are trying to create that while allowing people to be flexible, because COVID-19 is so individualized and impacts people so differently," she said.
Lindsey DesArmo, wellness and communications manager, reminded town hall participants of the mental health resources available to faculty and staff members, including sessions with Encompass, the employee assistance program.
Doug Graham, professor of biomedical sciences, had worked at the Centers for Disease Control before coming to Grand Valley. He gave closing remarks on the fluidity of the virus.
"Despite our best efforts done in full faith and transparency, we may have to change decisions from day-to-day," he said. "If we can embrace uncertainty, we can manage expectations."