This midterm season, students weren’t the only members of the Case Western Reserve University community that were stressed out. As the death toll of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise in the U.S., with 19 recorded fatalities at press time, CWRU’s administration has become increasingly concerned about student travel during spring break. Since the outbreak began, Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark, along with Vice President of Human Resources Carolyn Gregory and Executive Director of University Health and Counseling Services Sara Lee, have sent seven emails to the CWRU community detailing university recommendations and policies regarding spring break travel. These emails reached a fever pitch during midterm week, with students receiving daily updates from March 3 to March 6.
On Tuesday, March 3, the administration explained new university preparation measures, such as contingencies for prescription medicine disruptions, the implementation of telephone screenings for new hires coming from abroad and the decision to open dining at Leutner Commons to students remaining on campus over the break. They also “made the difficult decision to cancel all university-related study abroad programs.”
First year Peter Alex Rivera is one of many students impacted by the cancellation. Rivera had been looking forward to studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain during the break, so the announcement came as a disheartening shock.
“I was a little disappointed about the cancellation,” Rivera said. “[But] I do respect where [the administration] is coming from.”
Wednesday’s update from Gregory and Stark primarily reinforced previous recommendations regarding domestic and international travel. Additionally, CWRU announced that it was making preparations for if COVID-19 begins significantly affecting campus operations.
Even in the context of the administration’s previous updates, the policies outlined in Thursday’s email shocked many students.
The email sent out on March 5 prohibited students from traveling to King County, which includes Seattle, and Los Angeles County for university-related travel. Both counties declared public health emergencies within the past week.
Orion Follett is a second-year student from the Los Angeles region. Although he doesn’t believe the university’s measures will especially impact him, he acknowledges the university is taking a significant stance with this policy.
“The email scared my parents and girlfriend,” said Follett, “But, I interpreted it as more of something they were just saying for liability issues, rather than something that worried me.”
Following an influx of four cases, Sacramento County also declared a public health emergency on March 5, after the email was sent out.
In addition to domestic travel restrictions, the email also asked all students, faculty and staff leaving Northeast Ohio to fill out a spring break travel registry form. The administration explained that it is possible additional COVID-19 outbreaks will arise, meaning that individuals traveling to affected regions may be required to self-isolate for COVID-19’s estimated incubation period, 14 days.
The week’s final update clarified the policies outlined in the penultimate email. In Friday’s email, Stark and Lee explained that it is unlikely that any student would have to self-isolate. The university’s decision to ask students to register their travel was intended to allow CWRU’s health professionals to offer geographic-based counsel. Additionally, they suggested self-observation and sanitary practices for students returning from prohibited domestic regions. Lastly, the email attempts to ease students’ concerns about COVID-19 impacting their academic responsibilities; Stark and Lee explained the university is exploring alternatives to the traditional classroom experience.
A statement the university prepared for The Observer further clarifies CWRU’s COVID-19-related preparation and healthcare infrastructure.
“University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) has been preparing for potential scenarios involving COVID-19 and the campus for several weeks, and have several contingency plans in place. That said, it is difficult to predict the precise demands that COVID-19 developments could make of UHCS, the overall Cleveland health community, or the nation’s overall health infrastructure. The university is doing all that it can to prepare all aspects of its operations in the most careful and complete ways possible.”
All told, CWRU’s administration has demonstrated its proactive planning and decision-making in case of the frightening scenario that COVID-19 impacts CWRU’s community.