As the number of cases of coronavirus increases in Portland, Lewis & Clark has begun preparing for the potential of widespread school closures.
At the most recent faculty meeting, Vice President, Chief of Staff, General Counsel and Board Secretary David Reese and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Operations Andrea Dooley discussed the college’s incident management policy and urged faculty to plan ahead for possible class cancellations. In an email sent out to faculty before the meeting, IT suggested that they become familiar with the online tools the college has at its disposal, and formulate a plan for teaching their classes virtually in the case of cancellations.
Reese and Dooley also reported that plans are being formulated in case the college needs to quarantine students, and that rooms in Hartzfeld have been identified as possible isolation rooms.
On Feb. 27, an employee at Forest Hills Elementary School in Lake Oswego tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. It marked the first case of the virus in Oregon.
Authorities were unable to determine the source of exposure. According to ABC news, “The individual had neither a history of travel to a country where the virus was circulating, nor is believed to have (had) close contact with another confirmed case — the two most common sources of exposure.”
Samples were sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after the initial diagnosis. Their lab work concluded on Tuesday morning, confirming the results of the prior presumptive test.
The coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, is a virus that attacks the immune system, which has led the World Health Organization and other leading experts to associate it with the flu. Though it has spread to more than fifty countries around the globe, there have been only 152 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of March 4.
The CDC maintains that the relatively small amount of cases in the U.S. does not reflect the gravity of the threat. They have encouraged individuals, communities and institutions within the U.S. to act preventatively in order to limit the potential for an outbreak. All preventative measures would be non-pharmaceutical, according to the CDC, because there are no active vaccines that combat the virus.
Following the Lake Oswego case, Lewis & Clark sent out an email through the LC Bulletin on Feb. 29 that included information regarding support resources, traveling and prevention. Several leading coronavirus experts were listed as sources for the information. The email was signed by Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan.
“We are following public health best practices guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, local health authorities, and the American College Health Association,” the email reads. “We will provide updated guidance as it becomes available.”
A second case of the coronavirus was documented on March 1, a day after the LC Bulletin email was sent. The Oregon Health Authority reported that the person involved in the Lake Oswego case is a likely source for this case, as the infected persons lived together.
The second case has not warranted medical attention thus far. Treatment has consisted entirely of bed-rest.
Director of Overseas & Off-Campus Programs Blythe Knott says that the global crisis has not affected Overseas Programs beyond the Beijing program, which was cancelled. The rest of the trips are scheduled to continue as planned.
“Our spring programs have not been cancelled (aside from China),” Knott said via email. “If the U.S. Department of State raises its Travel Advisory level for a country or area in which our students are located to a level 3 (“reconsider travel”), we will cancel any programs in that area and require that our students return home.”
Knott believes that the potential for countries to close their borders does not warrant ending any trip prematurely.
“I don’t think it’s likely that a country that sees a surge in coronavirus infections would close its borders,” Knott said. “I think it’s more likely that countries receiving people from countries with a major outbreak will ask travelers to quarantine for 14 days, until the incubation period for the virus has passed. We’re keeping a close eye on the situation worldwide and will always work to support our students if circumstances change in their host country.”
Despite this, some students on study abroad programs are still feeling the effects of coronavirus. A trip to the Canary Islands on the Morrocco program was cancelled due to a confirmed case on the island, and schools in Fukuoka, Japan are currently closed.
Back on Feb. 12, Bon Appétit at the college underwent a cautionary health-related exercise that involved the removal of self-service, prompting speculation that Bon Appétit was preparing for the coronavirus.
Ryan Jensen, general manager of Bon Appétit said that while the exercise certainly took the coronavirus into consideration, it was carried out with other issues in mind.
“There were a number of factors,” Jensen said. “The flu season is hitting right now, and our company has put out some steps to limit that. We look at a variety of things that could cause us to modify our work to keep people safe.”
Jensen noted that the procedure is indicative of an overall trend at LC, in which various organizations and facilities around campus have taken measures to prepare for a health-related emergency.
“We wanted to kind of look at some steps that we could take that, in the beginning, would be minimally invasive to the student dining experience,” Jensen said. “But also how we could ramp up in case something did happen. A lot of concern that Bon Appétit has is shared by the school in terms of facilities all over campus and it centers around basic preparedness.”
LC worked in coordination with Bon Appétit in implementing their Feb. 12 procedure. It was a response to the World Health Organization’s initial briefing of the coronavirus that took place on Feb. 11, when the virus was officially named and disseminated for a mass audience.
Melissa Osmond, associate director of health promotion, believes that providing information about the disease is the best way to keep people safe.
“It’s a public-health issue which means everyone should be informed about it; it’s about preparedness,” Osmond said. “This is a new disease and a novel one, a concern globally. We want to send out the information that we have so that people can protect themselves.”
The Health Promotion and Wellness Department has released a statement that can be found on the LC website in the Health Promotion and Wellness section. It is comprised of relevant details concerning the coronavirus and is updated weekly.
Osmond says that the statement may serve to dispel illegitimate fears or misinformation that LC students might have.
“Any time that there is some kind of illness or infectious disease, we want to balance (the fear of) it with giving people information,” Osmond said.