The Potter Building houses Health Services. Photo by James McIntosh.
This is a developing story. For the most recent updates, follow @RhodyCigar and @mary_lind18 on Twitter.
As campus remains open over the next few weeks, so too will a variety of its resources, despite classes moving online due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Housing and Residential Life (HRL), Health Services, Dining Services, Campus Recreation, the Campus ID & Dining Office and Robert L. Carothers Library & Learning Commons will remain open in limited capacities. Tours for admitted students will be continuing in limited capacities.
It is not clear if services like the Counseling Center, the Academic Enhancement Center or the Writing Center will be doing the same. Campus Recreation announced on Twitter that all of their facilities are closed until further notice.
A webpage on the University’s website has also been set up to address schedule changes on campus in light of the outbreak.
According to the site, Dining Services will offer limited services from Sunday, March 15 until at least Friday, April 3 and “buffet options will [be] replaced with takeaway options and hours will be reduced.” A notice on their website also notes that “no seating will be available” during the period of this limited schedule and they will be periodically assessing menu options and service times.
The library is currently operating on a normal schedule but patrons are advised to check the library website for more information. According to the library’s website, “the information and research help desk will be open virtually for the duration of the current outbreak.”
The Campus ID & Dining office will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be closed on weekends.
Campus Recreation will remain open with limited hours and services and their website, social media and hotline will be updated as well, per their website. Information on what those hours and services will be was not available on their website at the time of publication.
The University’s coronavirus page states that tours and information sessions for high school seniors who have already been admitted will be continuing, but are limited to groups of less than 100 people. Events for non-admitted students including tours and shadow days are suspended.
According to tour guide and junior film and theater major Jourdan Miller, who received an email from Erin Earle, the director of campus visit experience, tours will begin again on Monday, March 16. Previously scheduled shifts for these students have been canceled and they can instead sign up to assist in upcoming tours and information sessions
Health Services will be operating with their regular hours (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays), but will be closed on Saturday, March 14 as originally scheduled and will be offering nursing services on Sunday, March 15. They are already operating with limited hours this week for spring break (8 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Monday, March 9 to Friday, March 13).
While there are still no known cases of COVID-19 in the University of Rhode Island community, all groups have been planning and preparing for that possibility.
Ellen Reynolds, the assistant vice president for student health and wellness and the director of Health Services, said today that Health Services is prepared to handle both typical appointments as well as appointments with students who present as “persons under investigation” for COVID-19.
“It’s changing every day, and it’s sometimes three times a day, so we have to be flexible,” Reynolds said.
Every morning, at the beginning of the 12-hour 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift, the staff meet to receive live updates about the situation. Information is also sent out regularly in all-staff communication, primarily if things change after the meeting or if questions come up during the meeting that cannot immediately be answered.
As a member of The Joint Commission, a national organization that accredits over 22,000 healthcare organizations across the country, Reynolds said that Health Services has emergency management plans in place.
While Health Services knows what to do when they see an influx in patients, they don’t typically have patients who require isolation during their evaluations as is required for patients under investigation for COVID-19.
Students at Health Services, for the time being, will be screened immediately upon entering the front door asking if they meet the criteria to be considered as a “person under investigation.” This screening will be done regardless of whether or not the student is showing symptoms of the virus, which can include cough, fever and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.
If they have traveled in the last 14 days to high-risk areas or have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, they “don’t even go in any further,” said Reynolds.
“We have a plan to divert them through an ambulance entrance where they’ll be masked and gloved and then put in an isolation room,” she said. “At that point in time, only one person will come into contact with them so that we’re not exposing our entire workforce.”
Medical staff entering the isolation room will be wearing protective gear to protect themselves from the virus.
“Our medical director, Dr. Christopher Nasin, went through a full donning and doffing with personal protective equipment” for their staff, said Reynolds, which includes putting goggles, impermeable gowns, gloves, ankle guards and other gear as well as how to safely remove the gear after leaving the isolation room so as to not potentially expose others to the virus.
Students will then be asked in the isolation room about their recent history about their risk, exposure and symptoms. After reaching out to the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) to determine if a test is necessary, they have the capability to swab patients and send them to the RIDOH lab.
Reynolds added that if a student is mildly ill, their test will be a “lower priority” than patients who are hospitalized or people who work in the healthcare field, but it will be “added to the line.”
At this point, plans will be made to either escort the student home or find a safe place where they can remain isolated on campus.
Frankie Minor, an assistant vice president of student affairs and the director of Housing & Residential Life, said that housing plans for infected students who need to remain on campus will vary from case-to-case.
“Much like we do with students with disabilities, we rely on our healthcare professionals [to say] in this particular situation what does this student or these groups of students need,” Minor said.
HRL has identified spaces that meet the criteria given to them by Health Services for students with the virus. They would require a living space with a private bedroom and a private bathroom. There are vacancies in the newly-opened Brookside Hall, an apartment-style building with suites of four and six individual bedrooms as well as two individual bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room space; only one student with the virus could live in one of those spaces.
For roommates or others who may have been exposed to a student with the virus but aren’t showing symptoms, they could potentially put more of them in a suite together.
All of those situations, however, are just possibilities and would be evaluated case-by-case.
Kathy Collins, the vice president for student affairs, Reynolds and Minor all said that housekeeping staff has received training on “effective cleaning standards,” as Minor described them, as well as how to keep themselves safe. Staff have been trained on cleaning techniques that meet Center for Disease Control and Prevention standards.
“We’ve been employing the same cleaning techniques that we’ve used in the past, we’ve made sure that we’ve got plenty of cleaning supplies to last throughout the remainder of the semester, so basically we’re just reminding them what we do and then passing on the best information, which is also rapidly changing sometimes,” Minor said.
For more information on the University’s efforts, students can call the University’s COVID-19 hotline at 401-874-3082 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Individuals can also visit web.uri.edu/coronavirus for information about prevention, travel, campus schedule changes and updates from the University.
The Cigar has contacted Dining Services, Campus Recreation and the Counseling Center for comment and will be reaching out to other services in the coming days.