McDaniel takes precautions against coronavirus

Washing your hands is still the best way to avoid the spread of disease. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay user Gentle07).

The panic associated with the coronavirus outbreak has slowly but surely spread across the world, reaching the United States and even Maryland, as people stock up on toilet paper, nonperishable foods, and face masks (even though they don’t offer much protection and in fact take away resources from medical personnel, according to the Surgeon General).

Gov. Larry Hogan has even addressed the outbreak, stating that canceled events, school closures, and an encouragement to work from home when possible “are the kinds of things people should plan for.”

Now, McDaniel has addressed the outbreak in a preemptive response to potential student, faculty, staff, and parent concerns.

According to an email sent to the campus community Tuesday evening, “McDaniel College is currently making careful preparations in response to a potential COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak. This is a dynamic situation and we are committed to the health and well-being of all our community members.”

The CDC states that “most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus.” There is no need to panic, but it can be helpful to take precautions.

According to Tuesday’s email, McDaniel has formed “a cross-campus operational Coronavirus Task Force (CVTF)” to meet weekly and “evaluate this changing situation.”

The members of the task force include President Roger Casey, Provost Julia Jasken, Vice President for Administration and Finance Tom Phizacklea, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Vicky Shaffer, Vice President for Enrollment Janelle Holmboe, Dean of Students Liz Towle, Director of Human Resources Jenni Glennon, Director of Public Relations Cheryl Knauer, Director of Risk Management Jackie Graves, and Chief of Staff/ Secretary of the Board of Trustees Marissa Cormier.

The College has also created a webpage to keep the community “informed about the College’s preparation and resources available to our students, staff and faculty.”

Other departments have taken their own precautionary measures. Hoover Library’s social media channels shared links to reliable information about the virus because “as the coronavirus covid-19 spreads, so does misinformation.”

Hoover Library also responded to a student’s suggestion to provide disinfecting wipes for library keyboards. The suggestion was written on the library’s whiteboard asking, “What would help make you love HooverLib MORE?” as part of I Love the Hill month. Lysol wipes are now available at the IT Help Desk and near printers.

As is always the case, Englar Dining Hall continues to offer boxed meals for sick students who do not wish to eat in the dining hall. Students would simply have to fill out a form and ask a friend or roommate to pick up the boxed meal.

The Office of Residence Life has posted flyers in dorms and academic buildings describing strategies for staying healthy, specifically in regards to the flu and coronavirus.

However, despite these precautions, the spread of the virus has reportedly left parents worried about their McDaniel students.

A recent post in one of the “Parents and Families at McDaniel College” Facebook groups asked where to “look to find out what McDaniel’s closure policies are in instances of viral outbreak such as the coronavirus.”

Other parents soon responded, voicing similar concerns regarding McDaniel’s communication to students about precautions, whether cleaning processes (especially in bathrooms and athletic facilities) are being improved, whether faculty have a plan for conducting classes remotely in the case of a quarantine, whether the College will help students with travel or housing needs in the case of an emergency closure, and whether this situation will impact study abroad in Budapest.

Many of these questions are now answered on the webpage the College has created to address coronavirus. The webpage specifies that study abroad programs have not been suspended at this time. It also includes copies of emails sent to students and faculty regarding flu preventative measures.

According to the Wellness Center, the best way to remain healthy during flu season is still as simple as washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and limiting contact with sick people. An email sent on Feb. 28 also encouraged students to check the CDC’s travel advisories prior to traveling for the upcoming Spring Break.

On Wednesday, Dean of Students Liz Towle forwarded the previous night’s email to parents and families.

“We know this can be a concerning time for parents and caregivers,” she wrote. “We appreciate your continued support and partnership in keeping the McDaniel College Community safe and healthy.”

Then, two Iranian students in Budapest were confirmed to have contracted coronavirus. On Thursday, the webpage added a section specifically for students at McDaniel Europe in Budapest, Hungary and linked to the Budapest’s campus health page on coronavirus.

Director of International and Off-Campus Programs Elizabeth M. Davis, Ph.D. emailed all students studying abroad on March 4 and 6 to provide updates on McDaniel’s monitoring of the virus and explain what type of information is used to determine whether students abroad will be required to return home early. Copies of these emails are available on the coronavirus information webpage.

According to Tuesday’s email, “The College is closely monitoring reports from local, regional and national organizations.”

Late Thursday night, it was confirmed that coronavirus had reached Maryland. The next morning, McDaniel’s Office of Communications and Marketing emailed the campus community on behalf of the Coronavirus Task Force to issue travel restrictions.

“We understand that restrictions such as these may cause stress,” the email read. “These decisions are preventative measures with the health and well-being of our entire community in mind, while also following federal and state guidelines.”

As of 10:07 a.m. on March 6, all College-affiliated or funded international travel is prohibited until further notice.

“Additionally, per recently revised CDC guidelines, any student, faculty or staff returning from a country designated by the State Department Travel Advisory as Level 2, 3, or 4 because of COVID-19 will be expected to self-quarantine off-campus for a 14-day period,” the email continued.

In terms of domestic travel, the College is discouraging College-affiliated travel to locations within the United States where states of emergency have been declared related to significant numbers of cases of COVID-19, such as California and Washington state.

“Given the rapidly changing nature of the virus, if you choose to travel to affected areas, you may also be expected to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine off-campus upon return,” the email said.

“Any student, faculty, or staff returning from or traveling through Level 2, 3, or 4 countries should immediately notify Campus Safety,” the email continued. “If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, you should contact a health-care provider and follow their instructions for evaluation.”

The Task Force also created a travel registry survey for students, faculty, and staff to communicate their travel plans for Spring Break and the rest of the semester. This especially applies to those planning on traveling outside of a 100-mile radius of campus.

“Having a working knowledge of where all community members are traveling during this outbreak is important to help ensure the safety of our campus,” the email read.

Information on the travel restrictions and registry was also added to the webpage.

Later on Friday, Towle sent another email to students regarding the travel restrictions.

“In the event the College’s restriction on travel regarding COVID 19 (corona virus) impacts your spring break travel plans, and you do not have an alternative place to stay over the break, please contact the Office of Residence Life at (410) 857-2240 or email to discuss your situation,” she wrote.

She encouraged students to be cautious when deciding whether to travel overseas for the upcoming Spring Break, as a quarantine upon return would not allow them to physically be on campus.

“If the College becomes aware of a student who has been exposed to COVID-19 or diagnosed with the virus, we will immediately collaborate with the Carroll County Health Department to follow their recommendations,” Towle wrote.

Continued updates regarding coronavirus and McDaniel can be found here.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article was printed in the 23.7 issue of The Free Press. That version was written and sent to print before the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Maryland and Budapest, and before McDaniel issued travel restrictions.