As many recall the buzz in 2009 associated with the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic, 2014 will be noted for a new pandemic threat – Ebola. Ebola is already a well established epidemic mostly localized to West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Thus far, there have been three confirmed cases in the US (1 resulting in death). Now is the time to ensure your institution is prepared to take action given the unique exposures schools are faced with.
The CDC has posted Level 3 travel warnings recommending people avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. An alert – Level 2 travel notice has been issued for the Democratic Republic of Congo with recommendations for enhanced precautions to help travelers protect themselves and assist in Ebola prevention. Nigeria was downgraded from Level 2 to a Level 1 watch because of the decreased risk of Ebola based on the Nigerian governments’ quick response and containment of the outbreak.
Institutional leaders from study abroad, admissions/res life, student health center, faculty/provost, risk management, and environmental health and safety professionals should be convening to discuss student and faculty global travel programs, incoming students from impacted countries, and internal pandemic plans.
A few key questions should be considered:
- Does your institution have students and/or faculty researchers scheduled to travel to these countries?
- If your school decides to permit travel to the impacted countries or any other non-US destination, are you confident the 3rd party/host has necessary controls in place to protect your members?
- If the outbreak spreads to additional countries and impacts the spring semester study abroad programs, is your school prepared to ensure academic changes are seamless?
- Does your institution have students/faculty returning from a study abroad program or have incoming international students/faculty from the impacted countries?
- Is your student health center prepared to quarantine and treat someone with Ebola-like symptoms?
- Do you have a campus-wide pandemic plan, and has it been updated and practiced?
Assembling a cross-functional institutional leadership team to openly discuss the questions above is a vital tool to proactively assess risk, develop strategies to protect students, staff, and faculty, develop/review pandemic plans, communicate consistently as the situation evolves, and ensure insurance coverages are adequate.
Contact your RCM&D client executive to ensure adequate insurance coverages are in place, and contact your risk consultant to discuss pandemic policy development, review, and tabletop exercises to prepare for the worst.
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