For the latest information and resources on Coronavirus, please visit the RCM&D COVID-19 Resource Center at https://info.rcmd.com/covid19.
The new Coronavirus (COVID-2019) continues to make headlines and sweep across the globe. With its origins in China, the virus has spread to over 90,000 people across 70 countries and counting. Schools and universities with a diverse student body and study abroad programs find themselves especially concerned with how to handle the outbreak. The CDC and other health organizations have provided plenty of background and guidelines to familiarize your institution with and help stay safe from an outbreak.
What Is It?
Coronavirus is defined by the World Health Organization as a large family of viruses that can cause symptoms ranging from a mild cold to a deadly respiratory disease. This new strain, COVID-19, began in Wuhan, China and has rapidly spread resulting in more than 3,000 deaths, mostly in China. With no vaccine for the virus available, the CDC and the US State Department have advised against travel to China. Other countries including Italy and South Korea are also receiving heightened travel warnings.
Most higher education institutions have study abroad programs with a number of students around the globe. In the recent blog article “Responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak,” EDURisk recommends these travel recommendations for schools to follow.
- Provide transportation options for students and staff in China to return to the United States. Consider additional plans for those in nearby countries.
- State in writing that remaining in the region is voluntary and that no student program or staff member’s job depends on it. In consultation with legal counsel, consider drafting a release specific to the outbreak for anyone who then chooses to stay in the region. Discuss the release when speaking about the outbreak and its potential effects with all students and staff in the area.
- Read United Educators’ (UE’s) Preparing for Medical Evacuations Abroad for help identifying current insurance coverages and resources if students or staff remain in the region. If students or staff plan to travel to the region despite warnings, read UE’s Heightened Vigilance Required in Study Abroad Risk Management for waiver and insurance recommendations.
There is no vaccine for the new strain of Coronavirus. Preventing it from spreading across a campus full of students relies on preventive measures and safeguards. This list from EDURisk highlights how campuses should manage their risk.
- Identify a pandemic response team with appropriate personnel from health services, housing, security, communications, food services, academic affairs and legal counsel. Team members should have defined roles and responsibilities for preparedness, response, and recovery planning.
- Conduct coronavirus screenings of students and staff who recently visited affected regions. Use qualified medical professionals. These professionals can refer to the CDC’s guidance for health care professionals to help conduct their assessment of potential medical needs.
- Consider alerting the entire campus community about the coronavirus risk, preventive measures, and screening requirements. Advise travelers to contact their primary care provider prior to arriving for a coronavirus screening, allowing providers to prepare for the visit and take transmission prevention precautions.
Aside from campus-wide measures, all members of the campus community should also take these preventive measures recommended by the CDC to keep themselves safe.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
With COVID-2019 now making its way across North America and becoming more prevalent, stopping a spread of the virus will be a challenge. With no vaccine, minimizing risk with preventive measures is the best course of action for schools to protect students, faculty and staff. The CDC is currently considering encouraging schools to cancel study abroad programs, with schools such as Auburn University and Troy University already obliging and bringing their students and faculty home. Towson University and the University of Maryland have also cancelled several study abroad programs in high risk areas. As the virus continues to spread, it is imperative to head these warnings as they come while monitoring the situation. The CDC has also continued to put out guides and communication for higher education institutions as well as K-12 schools to use as a guideline for navigating this outbreak. Talk to your trusted RCM&D advisor today about additional steps your campus can take to minimize the risk of a potential outbreak.