Oregon State University is currently considered low-risk at the time of print following the fourteen cases of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus in Oregon that prompted Governor Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency, but has a four-level plan in place should an outbreak reach Corvallis.
Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations and Marketing, said the four levels of response will depend on the nature of a localized outbreak within the OSU community. The university is currently at Level 1, which includes increasing awareness, promoting wellness measures and additional cleaning across campus as a means of prevention. Level 2 would result in social distancing and self-isolation, Level 3 would result in OSU-directed cancellations and travel restrictions, and Level 4 would result in closing campus and utilizing remote delivery of education.
No one has yet tested positive for COVID-19 in Corvallis, although as more cases appear nationally and internationally, hygiene products such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are in high demand across the state. Clark said there are no current plans to close the university or cancel activities, such as sporting events, conferences or music performances
“At its height, we may fully close the university, dependent upon the level of incidents and its location. That could include our campus in Corvallis, in Bend, and operations in Newport, because there’s connectivity between each of those,” Clark said.
Dan Larson, OSU vice provost for student affairs, said the decision to close OSU would ultimately be dictated by Benton County Health or other health officials, rather than the university.
“The best thing we can do is just play out those scenarios to their eventuality and make sure we have a plan, and that’s what we’re doing,” Larson said.
Larson said the university is also working to dispel myths, coordinate communication and support the communities and families that are impacted, particularly international students.
In the past week, the university moved toward a comprehensive planning strategy to determine how to effectively provide continuity of education, research, outreach and business if COVID-19 appears in Corvallis or at OSU.
Continuity in education could involve using technology, such as video conferencing and distance education platforms, to deliver courses to students. Larson said it is not currently necessary to utilize remote learning and education, but it is a measure that could be employed if needed.
There are multiple administrative teams planning and preparing for a potential outbreak, including a steering committee, an outbreak planning team and an incident management team, which consists of OSU staff, faculty and administration from various parts of the university.
“When it’s time to activate an emergency operations center, an incident commander steps in and leads the incident management team in the roles they’ve been assigned and trained for,” Larson said.
Chunhuei Chi, OSU professor of global health and health management and policy and director for the OSU Center of Global Health, said if OSU has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the campus may be considered to be shut down for at least two weeks.
According to Chi, COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, and very little is known about its nature. It is pneumonia—not influenza—and is more contagious and has a higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu, with the latest estimation of 3.4%. Symptoms of COVID-19 include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath and chest pain or tightness when breathing and coughing. Approximately 12% to 20% of people who are infected are asymptomatic but contagious, according to Chi.
Chi said individuals with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to infection from COVID-19 given the same exposure as a non-immunocompromised individual. If infected, they also tend to develop more serious symptoms and face a higher risk of mortality.
Should one feel sick, they should call for medical attention, whether it be Student Health Services, an off-campus primary care provider or an urgent medical center, according to Clark. Clark said test kits for COVID-19 are currently provided by the CDC and are administered to states, and does not believe any have yet been provided to hospitals or care providers in the area.
Larson said that should a student in a residence hall become ill, there are 15 separate designated spaces on campus that have been identified in order to isolate and prevent the spread of the virus.
Clark advises students, staff, faculty and community members to take personal measures in order to prevent the potential spread of the virus, including cleaning touch-point locations in their residence halls, homes and vehicles.
Chi also stressed the importance of maintaining personal hygiene, notifying medical providers of symptoms and maintaining proper home quarantine if suspicious of being infected.
“No need to panic, but keep vigilant about possible community outbreak,” Chi said via email. “Be prepared to stay home and work from home for an extended period of time if a serious community outbreak happens.”
Clark said until further notice, the university is prohibiting OSU-sponsored travel by undergraduate and graduate students to designated high-risk countries, including China, South Korea, Iran and northern Italy.
Clark emphasized the importance of the OSU community joining together to provide support to each other and members of the Corvallis community.
“It’s time that we rally around each other and provide support, wellness information, and prevention within our own lives, and not seek to point out who appears to be from one culture or another, or one country or another,” Clark said. “We’re well past that.”
Larson said the two measures members of the campus community can actively take include engaging in good health and wellness practices and being informed.
Clark called the situation in Corvallis an “information crisis,” and said COVID-19 is not yet a health crisis or emergency.
“We’re dealing with, today at least in Oregon, a low health risk that we’re managing with both prudent practices for health care and with exhaustive information, and we are relying on each of us in the OSU community to monitor and best manage our personal wellness and utilize health care professionals to aid us in that while we plan for a possible elevation of the risk in Oregon and within Oregon State University,” Clark said.
OSU is providing updates on their website.