How EOU is Tackling COVID-19
Throughout the first few months of 2020, the media and most people’s lives have been consumed by the coronavirus (COVID-19). Colleges across the country are actively trying to figure out how to continue the school year while also keeping students and staff safe. Eastern Oregon University is no different. They’ve been meeting with their Crisis Management team since COVID-19 first became an issue in China (where it was first discovered). These conversations got especially serious once the virus spread to different countries around Europe.
The first conversations became about “what the implications would be around any kind of mass closures,” says Tim Seydel, Vice President of Advancement here at EOU, and someone who has been active in the conversation since the beginning.
When the case in Umatilla county hit the news, they pulled the Crisis Management team and the Emergency Leadership Team (ELT) together to talk about EOU’s actions. These teams are made up of people like EOU’s President, the Vice President, representatives from the Residence Halls, Deans, etc. All of the people on the teams are doing their piece, and their role to help prepare for any situation. They are in constant communication through calls, emails, and google docs.
One of the big changes for EOU this year was Spring term being put online. This conversation was going on long before the student body received the email. Their priority: the individual student. They’ve tried to talk about every single situation, whether that was not having a place to go, getting sick, taking care of sick family members, not having internet, or not being very familiar with online courses.
Lacy Karpilo, the Vice President of Student Affairs, says that the management teams are actively thinking about these issues, and continues by saying, “We will make sure they can meet their individual goals, any student that is saying, ‘well what does this mean for me?’, we are thinking about each individual student.” Communication between staff and students is vital and is being encouraged at every level.
The Student Health Center has been taking very extensive precautions, including designating an entire room just for people who might have the virus, or have any kind of respiratory symptoms. They are asking people who are going to the health center to call ahead, so the employees are able to put on masks, eye protection, and gloves before people who might be contagious arrive. Talking about these precautions, Heather Wiggins of the Health Center said, “Regardless of what the person has, it is still spread similarly… so we have to protect our students, as well as ourselves.”
Since the beginning of the coronavirus, the Student Health Center has been in constant communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make sure they are meeting guidelines, plus they have been meeting with local and state health departments. Wiggins attends update meetings three times a week. She also placed an order for more tests to be sent to the Student Health Center, but while they wait for those to arrive, have been sending students who might have the virus to the walk-in clinic to be tested. The Student Health Center will not be open during Spring Break but will remain open all of Spring Term.
Recent research suggests that people could be feeling fine, with only mild symptoms, and could be carriers of the virus, passing it on to others. Wiggins says this is why social distancing is important. She wanted to remind students to wash their hands for at least twenty seconds, stay 6 feet away from other people, to not share utensils or cups, limit groups to less than ten, and to practice social distancing as much as they can. She said, “it will save lives, right now, to stay away from people as much as possible.” Really, all of these precautions apply to even the healthiest people. The goal with these precautions is to “flatten the curve,” which means to limit the amount of sick people who need medical attention. This will help local health departments stay below their ability and capacity.
Lacy Karpilo, the Vice President of Student Affairs, says that the most important thing for students to know right now is that “The institution is 100% focused on students…We understand this is a difficult time, a stressful time…We are at every moment, of everyday, thinking about how we can help the students be successful.” She, and other faculty members, are encouraging students to reach out when and if they need help or any other kind of assistance.
The Counseling Center will remain open but will mostly be operating through phone calls. If a student does not know where to go to get the help they need, they are encouraged to call the Student Affairs office and they can direct those students to where they need to go. Seydel echoed this, encouraging students to stay informed by going to the EOU website and going to their coronavirus updates webpage (eou.edu/coronavirus).
Other places students can go to receive reliable information about updates and precautions are the CDC and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) websites. Like EOU’s coronavirus webpage, they are updating frequently as they strive to keep everyone informed.
There is always somewhere students can go to ask questions, as well as find information. The faculty of EOU want students to reach out, be informed, and receive the best information.