As we continue to prepare for the next level of COVID-19 response, I wanted to update you that IVC and Saddleback colleges have assembled a joint emergency planning task force, which has been working on emergency preparedness for the last month.
This joint response team met yesterday and will meet once a week until the pandemic declines. This team is advising President Stern and myself on appropriate campus responses to COVID-19. We’ve also asked the response team to begin putting out regular updates and tips, at least once a week, to both campuses.
The response team is responsible for implementing preparedness measures at each level of outbreak. As we closely monitor the situation with input from the Orange County Health Care Agency, we recognize that just a week ago we were at a very low level of outbreak, with few or no community-acquired cases in the State. This week, there are multiple such cases in Contra Costa, San Mateo, Solano, and Santa Clara counties. This raises the level of concern in our preparedness plan and triggers additional responses for our campuses. In particular, we are working with our facilities and maintenance departments to enhance cleaning of bathrooms, cafeteria tables, keyboards shared in succession, elevator buttons and handrails, like those on stairs. This will be done by prioritizing cleaning of these common-touch areas over other cleaning duties. You may notice that we let some things go without cleaning so that we can focus on these frequently touched surfaces. Please be understanding and do not complain to facilities if your trash doesn’t get emptied one night.
We have also begun to monitor attendance levels, so that we will have a baseline against which to compare key attendance data if we develop community-acquired infections in our county and region.
(Note that there are two new cases of COVID-19 somewhere in Orange County, but they were travel acquired, not community acquired. That’s a very significant difference in risk posed to the community. Indeed, if I can offer some advice for keeping your fear level down and based on rational risk assessment, look for outbreaks of community-acquired cases, not travel-related cases.)
The COVID-19 response team has also asked Instructional leaders to work with administrators to explore ways in which those not currently teaching online or hybrid might provide online learning in the event of a shutdown, so as to avoid make-up of lost seat time during breaks or summer. Near Seattle, the entire North Shore School District in Bothell and Lake Washington Institute of Technology, have shut down and are trying to maintain learning via their online platforms. The University of Washington just announced that as of March 9, classes and finals on all three campuses (Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma) will not be held in person. At my request, our new Director of Technology Services Nicholas Wilkening, in close collaboration with the Offices of Instruction and faculty, is putting into place planning for Canvas and collaboration tool platforms to ensure that we are prepared.
The District has shared with all employees that those who travel to any of the six countries carrying CDC COVID-19 travel advisories, China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Japan or Hong Kong, will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return to the United States before returning to our campus, where transmission of the virus in our dense work environment could put thousands at risk. We simply cannot tolerate that risk for any overseas travel to a high-risk country. No one’s travel plans are more important than the lives and safety of our colleagues and students.
The COVID-19 task force has not recommended any extension of our foreign travel quarantine requirement to include domestic travel; but I, along with Dr. Stern, am strongly asking you avoid all travel—professional or personal—to King County or Snohomish County, Washington or any of the four counties in California with community-acquired outbreaks: Contra Costa, San Mateo, Solano, and Santa Clara. We are not providing you any cautionary messages that we aren’t considering for ourselves. I personally would not consider flying at this time. We would also like to provide one additional piece of travel advice. While Italy is the only European country on the CDC list right now, the European Union’s open borders will result in outbreaks throughout the continent very quickly, including community-acquired outbreaks. It is our recommendation that you not travel to Europe right now. This is just advice – that you may choose to take or not. However, please recognize that the CDC travel advisories could expand significantly between now and the time you travel for work or personal pleasure. You may find yourself having to endure a 14-day self-quarantine upon return from travel even though no such quarantine was required upon return when you set out on your journey.
In Orange County, the risk level continues to be at a relatively low level both in the county and on our campus. No further precautions are necessary, and no public events are being cancelled at this time. Best advice continues to include frequent hand-washing or the use of sanitizer, staying home if you are sick, sneezing tightly into your elbow if you must sneeze and avoiding touching your nose, eyes or face except after hand washing or use of hand sanitizer. Early data suggests that COVID-19 virus does not survive long on non-living surfaces. We are going to try to increase our cleaning of the most commonly touched surfaces, but it would be a mistake to worry too much about touching commonly touched surfaces as long as you aren’t touching your face and you are washing or sanitizing your hands frequently. Indeed, almost all community acquired cases appear to involve direct contact with an infected individual, almost always in the same home, airplane, cruise ship or other tight, confined space.
Also, I do not recommend the use of surgical masks unless you are sick, in which case you should not be here! There is no evidence so far that they have protected wearers from becoming infected. So please take them out of your Amazon shopping cart and leave the supply for health care providers.
In summary, I want to reassure you that we continue to be in touch with our local health care agencies. Our concern is slightly elevated but it is still a relatively low risk level this week because of the presence of community-acquired cases in our State; but there are no such community-acquired cases in Orange County, let alone near our college or on our campus. We have instituted some additional measures to mitigate risk but continue to function--learning as usual-- for the most part.
Please remember that everyone in the IVC community plays a critical part in keeping us safe. So stay home if you are not feeling well, wash your hands consistently, and wipe down shared surfaces. We will all need to continue to work together for the next several months until this health crisis diminishes. But, please don’t worry. We are focused, student-minded, and together: We are IVC and WE GOT THIS!
Cindy Vyskocil, Ed.D.
Irvine Valley College