Special Episode: A message to our campus on coronavirus

Mike Good, Ruth Watkins and Dan Reed

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

On Thursday, March 12, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins joined state leaders in officially announcing changes enacted at the U to slow the spread of coronavirus. In this podcast, President Watkins, Mike Good, senior vice president of Health Sciences, and Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, share a general overview of what is happening on campus. The website referred to in the podcast is: Announcement distributed on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

President Ruth Watkins: Thanks for taking a minute to listen to this message. We appreciate your partnership and your help as we work together to promote the safety, health, and well-being of our campus. I'd like to share a little bit of information with you about our plans and how we're responding to COVID-19. We've made some decisions to cancel classes on Monday and Tuesday, March 16 and 17, and to move classes online effective Wednesday, March 18, through the rest of the semester.

We've also decided to restrict travel to promote safety, health and well-being. We're restricting campus meetings that have more than 150 people, again, to promote safety and health and well-being. We're encouraging our students who live on-campus to remain off-campus if that's possible. However, our residence halls will be open. The campus will be open and operational during this time period. All of these actions are designed to promote health and well-being on our campus and to support the well-being of our larger community. We want to limit exposure and reduce the spread of disease whenever possible

We know these are difficult decisions. We are asking a lot of our people around our campus, our students, our faculty and our staff. We are so grateful for your help and your partnership in implementing best practices. We're watching the landscape in our community, in our state and around the country, we are talking frequently with our peers in higher education and working together to support health and well-being. There are many places that you can find information about the actions of our campus and also about promoting health in the community. The website displayed here will help you. I'd like to introduce my colleague, Dr. Mike Good, who is our senior vice president for Health Sciences.

Dr. Mike Good: Thank you, President Watkins, and thank all of you. Our hospitals and clinics are open and caring for patients. However, we have taken many measures to make sure our staff, our patients, our visitors, everyone involved in healthcare, is safe and that we're doing our part to prevent the spread of coronavirus in our community. We have changed the way patients enter and exit the hospital, and we encourage you—and have signage is in front of the hospital—that if you're experiencing cough, fever or difficulty breathing, we ask that you put on a mask outside of the hospital, use hand sanitizer, and our staff will be out there to help direct you to the proper area of the hospital or the clinic that you're visiting.

Please call before you come to any of our health care facilities if you think you may have a respiratory infection. If you call ahead, we will be able to make sure that we greet you outside at the entrance of the facility that you're visiting, and again, make sure we put a mask on and that we use the hand sanitizer so that we can do our part to minimize the potential for this virus to spread.

Coronavirus comes at us in the middle of a flu season. Each year, we deal with seasonal flu, which comes across our community in kind of in a slow wave. And because it comes at us at a slow wave, we're able to, in our health system across the community, keep up with those who need our help.

When an endemic or a pandemic, a new pathogen, enters our community—and this is what's happening with coronavirus—it comes, if you will, in a tsunami, a tall wave, many cases occurring at once, and that can overwhelm our health system where there are not enough health professionals, health care facilities and so on to care for the patients. All of the things that we've been talking about and will continue to talk about, where we social distance, where we try to prevent large gatherings, where we reduce travel, where we are meticulous with our hand-washing, avoiding handshakes, all of these things together work to slow down this tsunami and turn it into more of the slow wave that we see during typical seasonal flu, and so that as a health care community we can keep up with all the needs of our patients.

So again, coronavirus is a little bit more severe than our seasonal flu. So far, over 125,000 people worldwide have been infected, and we are beginning to see early cases in the state of Utah. We are prepared, we are ready, but we together come together as a community to do our part to slow the spread of this new virus.

I'd now like to introduce my colleague, Dr. Dan Reed, our senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

SVP Dan Reed: Let me begin by echoing what President Watkins and Senior Vice President Michael Good said. All the decisions we're taking are driven by protecting your health and safety, whether you are faculty, staff, students or our public participants in events on campus.

Your safety is the most important thing. Because of that, we're taking several actions. We're beginning by moving our classes online for the remainder of the spring semester. We'll be canceling classes on the 16 and 17 of March, resuming full-time online on Wednesday, March 18. Details on how to manage that will appear, if you're a faculty member, in your email. If you're a student, guidance will appear in Canvas and also your umail account on campus. For faculty members, there will be help available to support transition of your courses through Teaching and Learning. Look for that guidance in your email as well. Exceptions for offering particular sections, or laboratory components, or other things that require access to unique facilities should be filtered through your relevant dean, if you're a faculty member, for approval via my office.

For all of you who are staff, let me also say the continuity of operations of the university depends on your commitment and your support. We value your health and safety as well. Support services for you are available on campus. And let me conclude by saying, as I said at the outset, the health and well-being of all of you, whether faculty, staff, students or public participants in our activities on the University of Utah campus are of paramount importance, and that's the reason we are taking these actions today. And now I'd like to turn back to President Watkins for a few additional remarks.

President Watkins: So, let me make a comment about athletics. Like other events and university-sponsored activities, athletics events will be restricted to 150 or fewer participants, competitors and the immediate staff. Please refer to the athletics website if you'd like more information. Again, we are applying our effort at keeping campus events at or below 150 participants in an effort to support the health and well-being of our community on campus and beyond.

The main message of this communication is one of appreciation for your partnership in supporting health and well-being in our community, on our campus and beyond. We know this is difficult. We know these are hard decisions and we are asking a great deal of our students, our staff, our faculty and our community. From all three of us as senior leaders at the University of Utah, thank you for what you're doing. We appreciate your partnership and your cooperation. Again, the website where you can find additional information is displayed here. Thank you in advance for everything you are doing to support health and well-being at the University of Utah and in our community.