With universities across the country deciding on the fate of the fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Incident Command Team at VU has released detailed plans for a safe return to campus in August.
The Incident Command Team was created before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, they have since expanded their purview to encompass COVID-19 related material. According to Vice President for Student Affairs, Julie DeGraw, the team is tasked with thinking through all of VU crisis response planning.
“If we have an active shooter on campus, if there’s a fire, a natural disaster of any sort they [the Incident Command Team] have thought through and we have plans for all of those things,” DeGraw said.
The team consists of sixteen members with Assistant Chief of Valparaiso University Police Department, Chuck Garber acting as chair. In order to better prepare for a COVID-19 response, the team added Director of the Health Center, Kelly Eshenaur.
The Incident Command Team had made the recommendations and guidelines for the Fall Semester that was sent to students via email and can also be found here.
According to DeGraw, all students will be required to receive a flu shot once it is made available in the fall.
“We feel like that will help significantly reduce people getting sick… and then the symptoms [of the flu] are similar to COVID so if we can get a few people less getting the flu, that should help,” said DeGraw.
VU plans to make the flu shots available at the Health Center.
The ultimate goal of these guidelines is to ensure VU maintains an on-campus setting for as long as possible while providing the flexibility necessary for these ever-changing public health conditions. However, guidelines are subject to become either more or less restrictive throughout the semester.
“We will be watching the data and if there’s anything significant, it would have to be fairly significant for us to be making any changes one way or the other,” said DeGraw.
While guidelines for the spring semester are largely dependent on the COVID-19 severity, it is also up to the Valpo community’s responsiveness to the fall semester protocol.
“If they are, you know, holding up their end of our social contract to say that they’re going to do some of the things we need to do to keep the campus safe from any major outbreaks,” said DeGraw, “If that all goes well, then that allows us to have some different options for spring.”
In addition to daily self screenings and temperature checks,the guidelines include student move-in by appointment, the requirement of masks in residence halls for the first two weeks, and giving more students, including freshmen, the option to reside in a single room.
Within these guidelines are responses to multiple possible situations, including procedures in the case a student becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19.
According to Ryan Blevins, Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life and member of the Incident Command Team, there are guidelines set if a student begins to feel symptoms of COVID-19.
“If they are a residential student they’re told not to leave their room. They need to call the Student Health Center. The Student Health Center will do a telescreening with them over the phone. Then they [the Health Center] will figure out how to get that student tested for COVID-19,” Blevins said.
Students living off-campus will have the same access to the Student Health Center telescreening, but will be asked to self-isolate in their off-campus homes.
According to Blevins, if a residential student meets all the criteria of symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 they will be moved to isolation in a designated isolation area on campus.
“We’re going to administer the test through the Health Center and we’re going to get the results anywhere from one to three days later but while we’re waiting for the results, they’re [the student] going to hang out in the isolation room,” Blevins said.
Meals will be brought to students in isolation. Students who are feeling well enough to continue classes during isolation will be able to do so remotely online.
According to Blevins, students in isolation will also be required to provide a list of people they have come into contact with recently.
“If that test comes back positive, then we’re going to need to work with the local health department and the state health department to start contact tracing,” Blevins said.
VU will then notify people who they believe have been exposed to COVID-19 and help arrange for these individuals to be tested.
According to Blevins, as COVID-19 develops on a national and local level, VU’s policies are subject to change.
“The things that I share with you today can change in a week. As students are thinking about this, they absolutely need to keep informed about this because these recommendations [from health organizations] are changing regularly,” Blevins said.
Updates on COVID-19 policy and procedure will be included in the Campus Chronicle or a separate university update, both of which are sent through university email.