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Update on the University’s efforts to address global COVID-19 outbreak

Note: University Communications sent this email message to members of the University community on Feb. 28.

A large number of University staff and faculty have been working diligently to stay ahead of the COVID-19 developments worldwide in order to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy, and to keep University operations running smoothly. University officials are currently planning for the potential long-term and short-term effects of the global outbreak on our community’s people, programs, and processes. As a reminder, planning details and resources can be found on the University’s Coronavirus Resources and Updates website, which is regularly updated as new information is available.

As recent news reports indicate, COVID-19 has been identified in many countries, including cases in the United States. To date, however, there are still no confirmed cases in New York State. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely monitoring the situation and continues to assess the risk to the general public in the U.S. as low. We are paying close attention to CDC analysis and are in regular contact with state and local health departments as the situation evolves. In addition, New York State has established a public hotline to answer questions about the disease and the state’s public health response. Anyone with general questions can visit the CDC website or call the hotline at (888) 364-3065.

Coronavirus University Response Team (CURT)

The Coronavirus University Response Team was established by President Mangelsdorf in early February. It is co-chaired by Jane Gatewood, vice provost for Global Engagement, and Mark Cavanaugh, chief safety officer and director of Environmental Health and Safety, and staffed by representatives of key academic and administrative units. CURT members are working with experts and stakeholders across the University to address current issues and to prepare for possible future impacts of this outbreak. The focus of the CURT is University-wide, with specific working groups in the following areas:

  • Public Health/Infectious Disease, which encompasses health preparedness and health care response, both for the University and in our broader Rochester community. The University of Rochester Medical Center has significant medical knowledge and patient care expertise in infectious diseases, and is well-prepared with comprehensive emergency operations plans. Additionally, the University is one of five NIH Centers of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance, and its investigators are part of the Global Virus Network, which helps to coordinate international research into COVID-19. Through these affiliations, University physicians and scientists are receiving frequent updates about research into the virus, testing protocols, and potential vaccines.
  • Travel, which addresses both inbound and outbound travel considerations for the University, working closely with the already established Travel Review Subcommittee (TRS) of the University’s standing Committee on International Travel, Health, and Safety (a current overview of University travel guidance can be found below).
  • Recruiting, Admissions, and Enrollment, which is examining the current and future possible impacts of travel, testing, diplomatic, and other curtailments on our students, faculty and staff. In addition, small sub-groups have been formed from each of the schools to plan for summer and fall programs and for mitigating the impacts of prolonged international travel restrictions.
  • Climate and Care, which is responsible for identifying issues of concern within the community and ensuring that our campus continues to uphold its values of equity and inclusion. Not only must we be vigilant in rejecting bias on our campus, but we also must support members of our community who may be experiencing anxiety and concern for family, friends, and colleagues in affected countries. The Climate and Care working group is focusing on issues of emotional health, health insurance, immigration, housing, funding, and travel for the next several months, should the Covid-19 outbreak continue to have significant impacts.
  • Supply Chain, which addresses business continuity issues related to procurement of medical, IT, maintenance, and other supplies essential to the operations of the University, including the Medical Center.
  • Tactical Operations Planning, which is focused on other aspects of preparing to manage operations and resources should a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case be identified on our campus.

Current Program and Travel Guidance

The Travel Review Subcommittee (TRS) has been carefully evaluating COVID-19 impacted destinations with regard to student, staff, and faculty travel, working in alignment with the CDC’s current guidance regarding travel.

At its meeting earlier this week, the TRS recommended that:

  • Education abroad programs in China and South Korea will be restricted until further notice.
  • University-sponsored faculty and staff travel in China is restricted and subject to waiver request/review (such as in the cases where faculty or staff might be invited as experts to help with virus alleviation). University-sponsored faculty and staff travel to South Korea is strongly discouraged.
  • Personal travel to these countries is strongly discouraged.

Other programs and planned travel are being evaluated in real time as the outbreak unfolds globally. Should a planned program or travel be affected, Center for Education Abroad or Global Engagement staff will directly contact the individuals involved in the program or planned travel in order to provide guidance and assistance. All travelers on University business abroad (work, study, research, etc.) are reminded to register their travel with the Office for Global Engagement to ensure they have access to University travel assistance coverage and support abroad.

Spring Break

A topic of particular discussion has been the upcoming Spring Break week (March 9-13) for many students and faculty on campus. All travelers are encouraged to think carefully about any planned travel, especially internationally, and to assess the risks both of their destination(s) and of traveling through domestic and international areas where the virus has been confirmed.

For individuals choosing to travel outside the U.S. during spring break, there may be additional scrutiny upon your return to the U.S. The University’s International Services Office (ISO) recommends that it could be helpful to document details of any recent travel, especially if there are questions relating to whether you visited areas that are affected by COVID-19. Useful documentation may include your U.S. I-94 travel history (for those in the U.S. on a visa) showing your recent physical presence in the U.S., your detailed trip itinerary, hotel or other travel receipts, and other evidence related to where you were during any time abroad. Collecting this documentation in advance may be beneficial in the event you are asked to provide proof of your itinerary or activities.

Stay Healthy!

Even though there is currently no indication of COVID-19 at the University, colds and the flu have been confirmed on campus this year. Everyone is encouraged to take the following steps to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And when you are sick, stay home.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Of note, University Facilities and Services has increased cleaning and disinfecting in the residence halls to help prevent the spread of all illness-causing germs.
  • Get your flu vaccine. It’s not too late!

The University will continue to provide periodic updates to the University community via email and on the Coronavirus Resources and Updates website as needed, and, if circumstances warrant, via AlertUR. The University is committed to keeping the Rochester community well-prepared and well-informed. If you have further questions or concerns, please submit them via the contact form. Your request will be directed to the University expert best able to respond.

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