Recapping our response efforts

August 24, 2020

As the fall semester begins this week, I want to provide our faculty and staff members an update regarding our COVID-19 response and our plans to resume in-person learning. This email includes an overview and recap of the initiatives and procedures put into place since March. You may also reference the Return to Campus website.

This fall semester does look and feel differently. Many of you have already signed on to the Community Commitment and are well aware that there is immense self-responsibility in navigating these next 13 weeks and into the spring semester. We must also recognize that it is our collective response that impacts not just ourselves, but one another and our ability to serve and educate our students. 

Physical environments have changed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ohio Department of Health guidelines and orders have been used to create spaces that support physical distance and provide barriers when spacing is not able to be achieved. We have also instituted enhanced cleaning protocols and the requirement to wear face coverings.

Information for faculty and staff was sent in an email last week, and it provided an overview of the many physical changes, de-densification of spaces and links and processes to order personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Sheri Stoll, vice president for administration and chief financial officer, and her team have done a remarkable job in evaluating each classroom and public space, ordering supplies, modifying office, classroom and public spaces, increasing outside, fresh air exchange and upgrading HVAC filters, wherever possible, including enhanced ventilation in restrooms. According to CDC guidance, signage and patterns of movement have been modified to encourage safe passage in hallways and in and out of facilities on both campuses. Everyone’s support is needed to report when something needs attention, and we also appreciate your flexibility. If you see something that is not working as expected, please let us know.

We have made intentional efforts to de-densify our campuses, both inside and outside the classroom. Alternate Work Arrangements have been made available to employees based upon CDC guidelines, including higher risk categories of severe illness from COVID-19. A new telecommuting policy was approved by Cabinet to offer additional flexibility for employees. Supervisors have also worked with their staff to provide remote work where appropriate, as well as modifying on-campus environments. Many staff will continue to work fully remotely or partially remotely. Deans have worked with faculty on their alternate considerations, and they have responded to requests by faculty to teach remotely. As of today, approximately 24 percent of faculty are teaching in-person/hybrid courses only, 28 percent of faculty are teaching a blend of in-person/hybrid and virtual courses, and 48 percent of faculty are teaching virtual courses only (remote and online).

We are asking those faculty and staff members who are working or teaching a fully virtual load to limit visits to campus unless they need access to labs for research or access for other academic materials. I have also asked Cabinet to provide me with a breakdown of their staff who plan to work remotely, ensuring that only those who are more student-facing plan to be on our campuses.

In July, we launched Design My BGSU, an initiative to work with any student who wishes to make a variety of adjustments to their course schedule. To date, 2,739 students worked with this advising team. As course delivery modes have changed, we were able to accommodate a variety of learning preferences. This fall, more than 25 percent of the student body will be fully remote or online, resulting in significantly fewer students on our campuses. In analyzing enrollments, as of today, approximately 48 percent of students are enrolled in in-person/hybrid courses, 32 percent of students are enrolled in remote courses and 20 percent of students are enrolled in online courses.

I want to thank Dr. Glenn Davis, vice provost for academic affairs; Andy Alt, associate vice provost for student success and life design; the Design My BGSU team; and the college advisors for their tireless work to support our students throughout this process. Faculty, chairs, directors and college leadership have also played an instrumental role in providing flexible options for BGSU students.

We expect to have 3,872 students living on the Bowling Green campus this fall semester. This number is approximately 65 percent of normal density. Of the students living on campus, 75 percent are in single occupant rooms, with the remaining 25 percent of students confirming that they wished to remain with a requested roommate and function as a family unit should the need to quarantine arise. Please note that this meets CDC guidelines regarding occupancy in residence halls. Students were given the choice to change their housing contract, and those who selected the option to cancel their residence hall reservation were provided with $1,500 in CARES emergency funding to seek alternate living arrangements and to support their education. Dr. Josh Lawrie, director of residence life, and his team have worked extremely hard under challenging and changing conditions to meet the needs of our residential students.

Ben Batey, former Wood County health commissioner, was appointed as the University's chief health officer in July, reporting directly to the president. He is leading the COVID-19 Response Team. This team will respond to possible or positive COVID-19 cases, coordinate with the Wood County Health Department in contact tracing, oversee quarantine and isolation and provide guidance in developing protocols and training for students, faculty and staff. In addition to our chief health officer, this team includes several physicians, the incoming Wood County health commissioner, nurses, health educators, epidemiologists and BGSU healthcare-related students and faculty, who are training as contact tracers.

Throughout our nation, testing continues to be an effective, but scarce resource. We will continue to be strategic in deploying our testing with students, faculty and staff. We have learned that having multiple options for testing is important as reagents, supplies and result wait times fluctuate. BGSU, in partnership with Wood County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health, are supporting Wood County Hospital in purchasing Thermo Fisher RT_PCR equipment that will greatly expand capacity for COVID-19 testing. In the upcoming weeks, this enhanced capacity will serve not only BGSU, but Bowling Green and other northwest Ohio communities.

Surveillance testing, which is exploratory testing of asymptomatic individuals, has been piloted with approximately 350 students and staff as they returned to campus. Additional surveillance testing will occur weekly. The results of the surveillance testing as of Aug. 20, 2020, includes the following:

  • Staff: 28 tested; 0 positive cases; 0 prevalence
  • Students: 323 tested; 5 positive; 1.5% prevalence

A cumulative count of symptomatic and/or exposed BGSU individuals with positive test results that have been reported to us since March include:

  • On-campus: 4 employees; 2 employees and 2 students
  • Off-campus (positive individuals with no on-campus presence): 5 employees and 27 students

A weekly update that provides aggregate and cumulative information about positive cases for which BGSU is aware will begin the first week of the fall semester. The dashboard will be built to protect individual data in accordance with applicable privacy protections, including HIPAA and FERPA as applicable. We will provide data on the surveillance testing that BGSU initiates and cases reported to us. The chief health officer will also provide a general update each week that will include this dashboard information.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or those who may have been exposed to an individual who tested positive will follow CDC and local health department guidelines. If a student, faculty or staff is notified that they have tested positive for COVID-19, they will be informed by the medical provider or entity who conducted the test and instructed to isolate.

Isolation separates people with COVID-19 from others who are not sick to minimize the spread of this contagious disease. Individuals with symptoms may end isolation after a minimum of 10 days from when their symptoms started. They must be fever-free for 24 hours, and symptoms must be resolved. If an individual has no symptoms, but tests positive, they will isolate for 10 days from the date the test was taken. BGSU does not require repeated negative COVID-19 tests to return to campus, per CDC guidelines. An individual who learns they have tested positive should notify Human Resources, their supervisor/department director and the COVID-19 Response Team at health@bgsu.edu to expedite contact tracing and arrangements for remote classes and work assignments.

Individuals testing positive must stay at home and remain off campus during the isolation period. Students living in residence halls who test positive will be moved to an off-campus apartment that BGSU has set aside as isolation space. Students will be monitored daily for their health and well-being, and meals will be delivered. Students will be able to continue their classes in a remote fashion. When an individual tests positive, they will be asked by the health department or the COVID-19 Response Team about who they have been in close proximity to (within six feet for greater than 15 minutes) from when isolation began back to 48 hours prior to symptoms starting. If an individual is asymptomatic, they will be asked about contacts back to 48 hours before their positive test was taken. Contact tracing minimizes the continued spread of the virus and underscores the importance of maintaining six feet of distance. Monitoring for symptoms and contacting a medical provider should symptoms develop is important during isolation and quarantine.

Quarantine separates people who have had exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19 from the general public. Close contact requiring quarantine is defined as being within six feet of someone who is potentially contagious with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more, direct physical contact with the person (e.g. hugged or kissed them), shared eating or drinking utensils, or they sneezed or coughed on you. The practice of maintaining six feet of distance and keeping interactions within six feet very brief will minimize your risk of being exposed and subsequently quarantined should you come in contact with someone who is unknowingly COVID-19 positive. While wearing a face covering is an important practice to slow the spread of the virus, it does not keep an individual from needing to quarantine if they are a close contact. Once notified to quarantine, students, faculty and staff must return home or to their residence hall room, and they may not return to campus or participate in interactions in person for 14 days from the time of their last exposure to the person with COVID-19.

Quarantined individuals should monitor closely for symptoms, and should symptoms develop, contact their medical provider or Falcon Health Center and they may be directed to get tested. A negative COVID-19 test will not shorten the quarantine period since symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Students living in residence halls will be asked to quarantine in their room, or if they choose, return to their permanent residence for the 14 days. Students in residence halls will be monitored daily, meals will be delivered and classes will continue remotely. Students, faculty and staff living off campus will quarantine in their homes and will not be permitted on campus for the 14 days from exposure to the positive individual. Additional guidance about quarantine can be found on the CDC website or by asking the COVID-19 Response Team at health@bgsu.edu.

While there is distinct guidance for isolation and quarantine, there are times when appropriate action is less certain because of the lag time in waiting for confirmation of a COVID-19 positive test. Anyone who is awaiting a test result because of symptoms or a potential exposure should isolate until the results are received. While not strictly meeting quarantine protocols for contacts, these are times to be particularly cautious, strictly adhering to physical distancing, face coverings, washing hands, staying at home, working remotely or participating in class remotely until results are known. Consulting with the COVID-19 Response Team at health@bgsu.edu, your supervisor or Human Resources can help with the next steps on a case-by-case basis.

All of us need to be vigilant in self-monitoring for symptoms. If you typically have common symptoms such as congestion related to allergies or infrequent headaches, take note of whether symptoms are different and follow up if they are beyond your normal baseline. An elevated temperature of concern is at or above 38 C or 100.4 F. Self-monitoring your temperature at home or with thermal scanners placed in buildings on campus should be a practice each day. Care packages with face masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer have been prepared for all students who will be on campus. A phone app called Campus Clear will be launched next week that provides a quick reminder for all of us to check symptoms each day. If you are experiencing symptoms, stay home or at your residence hall room and contact your medical provider or Falcon Health Center to decide whether testing is appropriate. Your supervisor or department director should be notified that you are staying at home, and the chief health officer and COVID-19 Response Team at health@bgsu.edu are also available to answer questions and provide guidance on next steps.

Contact tracing is important in minimizing the spread of the virus and is the process of identifying individuals who may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The Wood County Health Department will be the primary agency responsible for conducting contact tracing for any individuals residing in Wood County. BGSU is working in partnership with the health department to support their efforts. BGSU has created multiple health ambassador positions to assist in contact tracing for individuals associated with BGSU and to provide support in following up with cases in the community. These individuals will be trained and will also be available to answer general questions as part of the COVID-19 Response Team.

Across the United States, Ohio, northwest Ohio and Wood County, community spread of COVID-19 is present. All of the protocols, but in particular, efforts to maintain physical distance and wear face coverings are intended to minimize our exposure in classrooms and in our interactions, even if we come in contact with someone who doesn’t realize they have the virus. Whether inside or outside, classes, gatherings and events will be structured to maintain six feet of distance, and face coverings will be required. In general, small informal gatherings will follow Ohio Department of Health guidance and be defined as 10 people or less. Currently, BGSU has followed guidelines for classroom settings and for other settings that will, in general, limit large gatherings to 50 people if the event can provide structure and on-site supervision so that individuals maintain six feet of distance. Guidance for large gatherings continues to evolve. Exceptions and inclusion of different types of large gatherings will require vice president approval. To be clear, public health officials have found that if we all wear face coverings, maintain physical distance and frequently wash our hands, the spread of this virus is dramatically reduced. Each of these efforts reduces the spread of this virus. Taken together, the risk is greatly reduced.

BGSU is working closely with the city of Bowling Green to support and monitor off-campus students and their social gatherings. This requires collaborative efforts to continually educate and hold each member of our community accountable. This weekend, we are very pleased that the city has reported no situations of large off-campus parties.

We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our community, acknowledging there are risks, especially in a COVID-19 world, but also acknowledging that we are following guidelines and best practices to reduce the risk of the spread of this virus. We will continue to follow the science and new information and will make changes where appropriate.

I recognize that this is an unsettling time in the recent history of the world and in our professional careers. None of us have had to collectively face this type of challenge. Please know that we understand this and have worked to be as flexible and accommodating as possible with faculty and staff, just as we worked with our students. I also wish you to know that we believe higher education is essential, especially public higher education, and we believe we must find ways to meet these challenges head on. There is a belief in the creativity, intelligence and the innovation of higher education institutions, especially BGSU. None of us asked to be faced with these issues, but we have little choice than to find ways to move forward, together. We must continue to adapt to meet the challenges of this new world. Thank you to those who are focused and who are working to meet these challenges and to provide our students a world-class education.