Breaking: WU announces new travel, event policies in light of St. Louis COVID-19 case
Following the news that a St. Louis County resident contracted COVID-19 Saturday, Washington University announced new travel and event policies for campus members in a University-wide email sent by Chancellor Andrew Martin earlier today.
The St. Louis County diagnosis was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state. It is reported that the person had recently returned from studying abroad in Italy. Martin’s email confirmed that they are not a University student or a member of the University community.
“It’s important to keep in mind that while the virus can be serious, most people who contract COVID-19 will experience mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms and fully recover,” Martin wrote. “However, there are members of our population who are more vulnerable to a virus like this and are at greater risk of serious illness. We need to think about the big picture and make every effort to be part of the solution, for the sake of everyone in our community.”
Effective immediately, all international University-sponsored travel is canceled through April 30. According to the email, this suspension also includes trips related to University work and programs that were funded by grants and other external sources. Any non-essential, University-affiliated domestic travel outside the St. Louis metropolitan region is also suspended until April 30.
At this time, study abroad programs in countries identified as being a “Warning Level 3” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been canceled. These countries include China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.
Students studying abroad in Italy were already sent home as concerns over community transmission of COVID-19 in the country rose Feb. 28.
“The University will assist students with return travel if a program is suspended,” the email read. “Other students who wish to leave a study abroad or international academic study program may voluntarily do so, and should coordinate with their program advisor about completion of academic coursework.”
Additionally, the University has a list of countries at an “elevated risk” compiled from recommendations from CDC, state and local public health agencies and experts on infectious diseases from the Washington University School of Medicine. The list currently identifies the countries from the CDC’s “Warning Level 3” list where all University travel is suspended. Japan is also listed as a country where travelers will be subject to additional screening and medical testing.
According to the email, students and faculty members are instructed to contact the University if they have recently traveled to any of those locations in order to return to campus. Depending on their location, individuals might also be required to complete a 14-day quarantine away from campus.
Visitors who have traveled to the listed elevated-risk locations, have been in contact with someone diagnosed or receiving care for symptoms of COVID-19 in the past two weeks are not allowed to come to campus or attend University events.
At the time of publication, several colleges and universities have made the decision to cancel in-person instruction due to worries about COVID-19. The University of Washington was one of the first universities in the United States to transition to online-only classes for the remainder of their quarter. Other institutions have recently followed suit and more are expected to announce similar policies.
While WU classes have not been canceled, the email said that professors are “are preparing to offer their courses online if necessary.” Deans of the different academic divisions are also reviewing how to ensure all students can complete the semester, should the University cancel classes for the remainder for the semester.
“These contingency plans will also address delivery of instruction to students who are unable to return to campus because of illness, quarantine or travel delays related to COVID-19,” the email clarified.
COVID-19 is an “extraordinary circumstance” and University departments were given permission to approve telecommuting measures for the well-being of all members of campus. Additionally, Martin wrote that those who are sick should stay home.
The University also encouraged organizers to not hold non-class events with crowds greater than 150 attendees. Other modifications for organizers to consider included converting physical meetings to an online setting and taking other precautions like making sure that attendees have a place to easily wash hands and that venues are not overcrowded.
“At this time, the University is not imposing specific restrictions for University events held on campus,” the email explained. “However, University leaders continue to monitor the situation, and this may change on short notice should conditions change.”
Martin acknowledged the extremity of some of these restrictions. However, he wrote that these measures are important to reduce the risks of community transmission, especially for those who are more vulnerable and could suffer severe health consequences as a result of contracting the virus.
“We’re a community that pulls together in challenging times, and I’m counting on everyone to be diligent, patient, and above all, compassionate and kind to one another as we each do our part to navigate this evolving situation,” Martin wrote.
This is a developing story.