Since last updating you on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 4, the number of global cases continues to develop and some smaller outbreaks have occurred in the United States, including California. Currently, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) reports we have three presumptive cases in Orange County (2 male and 1 female) all of which are travel-acquired, not community-acquired.
Our risk level remains low, particularly on our campus. However, in light of what has happened in the Seattle area, where a major university, a community college and an entire school district have shut down all but online learning, and because of the outbreaks elsewhere in California, we have ramped up our prevention measures. I take very seriously my role as the guardian of health for each of you and 15,000 similarly precious souls who trust us with your education, and your health, when you take classes on our campus. Here are some of the additional measures we are implementing:
- We have developed a COVID-19 response team to advise myself and the President of Saddleback. For the last month, this joint emergency planning task force has been working on emergency preparedness and our response to the COVID-19 outbreak which includes planning at various risk levels of viral outbreak;
- Higher prioritization for cleaning of surfaces touched by many individuals in short periods;
- Collaboration between your faculty and instructional administrators to provide some level of Learning Continuity in the event of a full or partial campus shutdown;
- Tracking of attendance in some classes to establish a baseline if we see some fall off in attendance if the outbreak hits Orange County;
- Expansion of our advisory against travel to China to include South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan. If you or a college employee travels to any of these countries, you must self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the United States before coming back to our campus, even if you are not required to do so by Homeland Security.
- Additionally, I am advising against travel to King or Snohomish Counties in Washington or to Contra Costa, Solano, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties in California. I also advise against travel to any member country of the European Union at this time, as free borders with Italy will likely allow the outbreak in Italy to spread throughout Europe within days to weeks. We are already seeing evidence of this in Germany and France. Travel on the East Coast may also be reduced in locations such as New York City.
I know that many of you have travel plans for spring break. I ask you to consider those plans carefully. The list of places requiring 14-day self-quarantine upon return will likely grow in the coming days and weeks. There is a chance that what does not require quarantine upon return when you set out on your journey may require quarantine by the time you return. A 14-day quarantine could put you a semester behind. Moreover, the decisions you make about travel during this rising period of COVID-19’s spread will impact not just you, but your families, friends, peers, and professors upon your return. To be honest with you, I’m avoiding all travel now, myself. Please consider a staycation over spring break.
We stand prepared to enact other risk prevention measures if community-acquired cases develop in our region, but for now we are conducting "learning as usual" at Irvine Valley College, save for the measures outlined above.
I continue to recommend 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. If you are in circumstances where you would normally shake hands with or hug someone, I would suggest bumping elbows instead. It’s trending, you know.
I do not recommend 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.
I know that many of you are concerned about contracting this virus. Our risk level remains low. There is no reason to stay home from class or off campus out of fear, at least not at this level of risk. If that changes, I promise you that we will move to the next level of risk prevention.
In summary, I want to reassure you that we are working on a plan for what is happening today, what might happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and the foreseeable future. We continue to be in touch with our local health care agency and will inform you of what we know, when we know it. There is no higher priority for me than our students, faculty, and staff.
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. Please let us carry the burden of figuring out how to keep you safe. We are focused, student-minded, and together: We are IVC and WE GOT THIS!
Cindy Vyskocil, Ed.D.
Irvine Valley College