Campus concerns about the coronavirus lead to discussions of closures, event cancelations

Across the country there is a growing panic over the reach of the COVID-19 outbreak, causing university closures from the University of Washington to Michigan State, leaving Oakland University unsure of what is next to come.

Senior Associate Provost Michelle Piskulich and Emergency Management Specialist Mike Crum have been taking the lead on all coronavirus conversations on campus, and created a task force of about 45 members that meet daily.

“Right now what we’re really trying to do is mitigate the risk on campus,” Piskulich said. “What we’re encouraging is that you wash your hands thoroughly.”

The task force has been taking notes from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to base all decisions. Currently, all university-sponsored travel to any threat level three countries such as Italy, Japan, China, South Korea and Iran has been canceled until further notice. Students currently studying abroad in South Korea and Japan have been brought home early.

The university is waiting for further instruction from all study abroad programs affiliated with but not controlled by OU to decide if they will be suspending their programs. All trips to Italy in the near future have been canceled as well.

“We took the CDC’s guidelines … and we quarantine [students] for 14 days when they come back to make sure that they’re not showing any signs of COVID-19,” Crum said. “And we did that in the case for students we brought back for [whoever travels].”

With the class closures across the country, students and faculty are concerned if OU will follow suit and move classes online, and what that situation would look like.

According to Piskulich, if OU were to close down, it would be for a two-week period until the task force reevaluates the threat of the virus. From there, they will decide to either reopen, or close down for another two weeks.

“Should we have to not hold classes face to face, online [classes] are one of those options,” Piskulich said. “What we would do is work with the faculty to determine what works best for the courses they teach. We have options of Webex, we have Panopto, we have ways of recording, and also having students join with faculty in Google Hangouts. There are a lot of different resources that the university has.”

What it would take for OU to go online is up in the air, as it depends on contingencies of proximity and frequency, according to Crum. It is also situational if students were to be sent home from housing if campus were to close down.

As of March 10, there are two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Michigan, one in Oakland County and one in Wayne County.

Many campus activities are being restricted or canceled due to the outbreak. Student Program Board has canceled all events until further notice, as well as interstate travel for student organizations using university funding, according to Dean of Students Michael Wadsworth. According to the Office for Student Involvement, Siblings Weekend and actor Terry Crews’ scheduled visit to campus in April have both been canceled as well.

Many seniors have been concerned about the commencement ceremony, and whether that would be canceled as well. In the past with different epidemics such as SARS or H1N1, the ceremony has continued, but the president did not shake hands with students.

At this time there are no plans to cancel, but according to Crum and Piskulich, the ceremony will be postponed no later than two weeks from the original event date.

“It’s almost unknowable,” Crum said.

If campus were to close down, students will be notified within 10 minutes via the OUPD emergency text messages, the OU Communications email chain and social media.

Administration has been communicating with other universities across the country to plan for as many emergency situations they can think of and following the examples set by others who have been dealing with the same concerns.

“One of the nice things about being in the community of higher ed is we’re definitely not alone,” Piskulich said.

As the task force continues to make plans, they are waiting to see what happens with the spread of the virus before they make any knee-jerk reactions. As Crum said, it’s as if “we have time, and we don’t.”

“I would urge people,” Piskulich said, “yes, there have been deaths related to this, and yes, we have to take it seriously, but there’s not a reason to panic.”

To stay updated on the COVID-19 epidemic and how it affects OU, visit the OU homepage, sign up for OUPD emergency texts and watch for emails and social media posts. For any questions and concerns, email [email protected].