Managing a Safe Return to Campus

Personal responsibility will be a key factor

People want to know: Is it really safe to return to campus during a pandemic? University officials conducted a webinar for employees on Aug. 10 and for students on Aug. 11 that explained in detail how this can be accomplished with a high level of cooperation from the university community.

The hour-long webinars included detailed explanations from campus experts about risks, the steps UMKC is taking to minimize those risks, and the vital role individuals must play to manage risks on an ongoing basis. Chancellor Mauli Agrawal said occurrences of COVID-19 on campus during the semester are all but inevitable, but if we all do our part, the spread can be controlled.

“The virus is with us, but the good news is we can keep it under control,” the chancellor said.

Personal responsibility, many of the presenters emphasized, is key. If students, faculty, staff and visitors are disciplined about three fundamental behaviors – wearing face coverings, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others and frequent, thorough hand washing – the risk of on-campus transmission will be significantly reduced.

Another vital step is for anyone who gets sick to notify campus authorities immediately, and stay home. 

Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., is dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert who has counseled Kansas City and Missouri state government leaders on pandemic response. She pointed out that the mortality rate from COVID-19 infections is three times higher for black patients compared to the population as a whole, and two times higher for Hispanic patients.

“This is an example of health inequity driven by systemic racism,” she said.

Jackson added that the primary source of transmission is personal contact; the risk of contracting COVID-19 from a contaminated surface such as a countertop is much lower than originally believed.

Nevertheless, Mike Graves of Campus Facilities Management said their team has been hard at work all summer and will continue a stepped-up regimen of cleaning and sanitizing across campus.

“We’ve been here all along. We have flushed water systems in buildings and improved air circulation in HVAC systems,“ he said. “We know we are going to have positive cases. We have a plan to respond.”

Obie Austin, Student Health and Wellness administrator, said his team will play a major role in that response as well, working to trace the movements and contacts of people who test positive for the virus and advising people on proper isolation or quarantine steps.

“If at any point you can’t remember what to do or you’re not sure, call us,” Austin said. Student Health and Wellness can be reached at 816-235-6133.

Provost Jenny Lundgren said the academic operation is fully prepared as well.

UMKC faculty participated in training specifically for effective online teaching. For the fall semester, the university will be offering approximately 50% of classes online, 40% percent in person and 10% via hybrid delivery.

“Students will have a wonderful experience because of the hard work of our faculty,” Lundgren said. The full range of student success services, from advising to financial aid, will be offered via a mix of virtual and face-to-face modes; appointments are recommended in most cases but walk-ins will be allowed in many offices.

In the student webinar, Kristen Temple, UMKC Residential Life director, addressed the steps taken to prepare the physical spaces and configure the rooms. Guests will not be permitted in the residence halls, except for move-in help (two guests per student). Students living on campus must submit a negative COVID-19 test result before moving in, from a test taken no more than 7 days before their official move-in date. The Student Services Office has a list of testing locations that provide test results within 24 to 48 hours.

"All spaces are ready for you," Temple said.

Changes to campus dining services were addressed by Jody Jeffries, manager of Student Union Operations and Student Auxiliary Services. Although seating capacity in the UMKC dining center will be reduced to allow for physical distancing, all but one menu option will be offered. Open area cooking will not be offered. UMKC retail dining services will also be open. Students will have the opportunity to dine in person or take their orders to go. Order ahead and pay ahead services have also been added to the offerings, including the Bite by Sodexo App.

Lundgren also urged faculty and staff to refer to the UMKC coronavirus website to get full details on all aspects of preparation and response to the pandemic. A recording of the student webinar is available online.

Published: Aug 11, 2020

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