Hours before Kansas recorded its first coronavirus death and the governor declared a state of emergency, Emporia State announced a plan on Thursday to help fight the spread of the disease by extending spring break and moving classes online.
ESU was one of three public universities in Kansas to announce similar measures on Thursday. The other schools were the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and Kansas State, Manhattan.
“These plans are designed to help our students, faculty and staff practice social distancing,” said President Allison Garrett in an email to the campus community at 9:44 a.m.
The death, and following state of emergency, were announced by Gov. Laura Kelly Thursday night.
The victim was a man in his 70s who lived in a long-term care facility in the Kansas City area. He was identified as having COVID-19 post-mortem, and his was the fifth confirmed case in the state. Kelly said there was no reason for Kansans to panic, and that the state of emergency was declared to allow the state greater resources in fighting the virus.
No cases have been reported on campus or in Emporia yet.
In the email, Garrett outlined the steps the campus would follow in coming weeks. These include canceling all face-to-face classes through March 20; moving all face-to-face classes to remote learning as of Monday, March 23; and canceling all campus events and programming through April 10. In addition, all campus internal meetings are limited to no more than six to eight individuals.
Online classes will continue unchanged.
In addition, university sporting events will be held without spectators. Those living in campus residence halls or sororities or fraternities are encouraged to remain away, or at home, for the additional week.
University offices will remain open, but Garrett encouraged “social distancing.”
Garrett said she had formed a special campus committee to meet regularly to address campus concerns about the virus. The committee, which includes Garrett, other high ranking administrators and four other established campus groups that deal with emergency services and student health have been meeting to discuss the best plan for campus moving forward.
The committee’s focus so far has been on notifying the campus community, said Gwen Larson, director of media relations. Students will be notified a week in advance before face-to-face classes resume so they have time to return to campus, she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”
COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus disease, is “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases,” and has been labeled as a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, in December and has since spread to more than 100 countries.
Larson encouraged students to pay attention to the news.
“Number One, (students) need to know that right now, there are no positive cases in Emporia and Emporia State,” Larson said. “Number Two, I think (students) need to understand the practice of social distancing. Which is avoiding large groups and keeping a safe distance. (That’s) one of the things I had to relearn. I’m a hand shaker and a hugger and that’s not good practice right now.”
Students who live in the dorms may remain there, but are strongly encouraged to return home if they are able. All card access to residential life buildings will be deactivated at noon tomorrow and residents will have to fill out a form to request access after tomorrow, according to an email sent today by Cass Coughlin, director of residential life.
The cafeteria in the Memorial Union will remain open, Coughlin said in the email, but the furniture will be rearranged so that students are approximately 6 feet from one another.
“Please do not move chairs closer together,” Coughlin said in the email. “The NEST will be serving the food to eliminate multiple people handling utensils. Salads will be premade and we will ask you to swipe your own card so we are not passing the card back and forth. The Buzzcotti will be open for grab and go items and convenience store items for flexibility to eat in your room.”
Paul Frost, Associated Student Government president, also emailed students today saying that ASG was going to work on figuring out how to address issues with upcoming committee and senate meetings, changes to allocations and Recognized Student Organizations re-registration or recognitions.
“ASG is focused on assisting our University leadership in any way possible and advocating for student concerns,” Frost said in the email. “We know that there are many unanswered questions, however, we would like to ensure you that we will be working tirelessly, along with our team, to find answers for you and report them out.”
More information about the campus and COVID-19 can be found on ESU’s website. If you are not feeling well and are experiencing either coronavirus or flu symptoms, call (instead of visiting) the Student Wellness Center at 620-341-5222 or Newman Regional Health, 1201 W 12th Street, at 620-343-6800.