How USF prepares for COVID-19


A passenger is screened for COVID-19 at the airport. ITALIAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL PROTECTION/FLICKR

Kalan K. Birnie, Haley Keizur, Katherine Na

Staff Writers

The global coronavirus event is constantly evolving. The information in this story is accurate to the morning of March 3.

The city and county of San Francisco is in a state of emergency. There are 47 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus in California, with 28 reported in the Bay Area. At the time of print, nine people in the U.S. have died of the disease — all in Washington state. 

The virus, which is believed to have originated at a market in the city of Wuhan, located in the Hubei Province of China, has spread to over 75 countries. The majority of cases outside of China have occurred in South Korea, Italy, and Iran.

What exactly is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the official name given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to the disease currently causing the could-be pandemic. It is a respiratory illness caused by a strain of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses. 

How deadly is it?

It’s unclear. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a complete clinical understanding of COVID-19 and its true mortality rate has not yet been reached. At the time of this story’s print publication, there have been about 90,000 cases of COVID-19 globally and approximately 3,000 deaths. A little over half of those confirmed to have the disease have since recovered.

How is USF preparing?

On the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 27, the University sent a campus-wide email that outlined the basics of its preparedness and prevention procedures, most of which come from its Pandemic Influenza Prevention and Response Plan. The 50-page document, which was last updated in 2016 in response to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus, presents step-by-step mechanisms linked to the severity of a pandemic and outlines the responsibilities of various departments in the case that one occurs. 

According to Kellie Samson, head of media relations at USF, the University is “leaning forward” in its response to take appropriate measures as the world learns more about COVID-19. 

During the last global health crisis, which was the swine flu H1N1 virus in 2009, USF established the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases and closely followed San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) guidelines. 

According to Samson, the President’s Cabinet has discussed COVID-19. 

What happens if there’s a case at USF?

USF’s response to a case of COVID-19 would follow protocols put forth by the Pandemic Influenza Prevention and Response Plan and in accordance with the CDC’s Federal Government Response Stages. If a case were found at USF, a command staff would form to assist the designated Emergency Operations Director. The plan states that “if necessary, this group is responsible for the tactical control of the incident rather than the strategic response.” 

In an email to the Foghorn, Samson said members of this team would be from Public Safety, Risk Management, and the Office of Marketing Communications. She explained, “Because an incident can happen at any time, there are multiple individuals who could serve in these roles, and role assignments would be made at the time of activation.”

The Federal Government Response Stages are a 6-step strategy for preventing, containing, and managing pandemics. Currently, USF is operating at a stage 2, meaning that there have been no cases of COVID-19 at USF, but the University is working to maintain situational awareness and create policy regarding study abroad programs. 

A suspected case of COVID-19 at USF would result in a stage 4 response. Samson said, “Stage 4 is for significant local human-to-human transmission as well as cases at USF. Neither of those thresholds have been met. However, some departments have been looking forward to stage 4 — example being Facilities Management working with ABLE with cleaning priorities and schedule.”

A stage 4 situation would follow medical protocol in which health care providers report suspected cases to the local county public health department. Samson said, “USF has provided SFDPH with all our contact information to ensure a rapid response to any suspected case.” In such a situation, student absenteeism would be monitored and tracked by professors in order to identify potentially affected students. Absenteeism for faculty and staff would be monitored by human resources. 

If there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19 at USF, SFDPH and CDC will review all information about the case, such as the classrooms and the living environment of the affected individual, to assess the risk to their contacts. The campus community would also be notified, while protecting the person’s identity per federal privacy laws restricting the release of medical information, and information would be posted on the University’s coronavirus resource page

Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) has identified rooms with private bathrooms where affected students could be sent for isolation, but these cases would be assessed on an individual basis. According to Samson, “SHaRE is also working with Bon Appétit to have a system where food can be picked up from the cafeteria and taken to any student isolation.” In the event of a student being isolated on-campus, Samson said, “The location of the rooms will not be publicly available to protect the confidentiality of the individuals.”

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