President Jenifer K. Ward sent an email to Luther College students, faculty, staff, and parents about the school’s precautions for COVID-19, or the coronavirus, on Mar. 2. The email addressed the global spread of the virus, the risk in the Decorah area, precautions set up by the Emergency Response Team, general health reminders, study abroad precautions, and spring break travel precautions.
The coronavirus is a respiratory virus that can cause fever, a cough, and shortness of breath. Although there have been over 1,000 cases and 31 deaths at the time of publication, the risk for Iowa remains low, according to
the Iowa Department of Public Health. However, 13 cases have been confirmed in Iowa.
Luther College Health Services worked with the IDPH and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention over J-term break to support three students who were in China or traveled through an airport in China. Two students voluntarily self-isolated themselves off campus once they returned and have now returned to campus, but one student will remain in China until the fall 2020 semester due to U.S. travel restrictions.
President Ward convened the ERT task force, which formed in 2009 after the anticipated H1N1 influenza pandemic, and created a Pandemic Preparation Plan.
The ERT task force is made up of faculty, staff, and members of the administration. Some new additions to the ERT include Vice President and Dean of Student Life Corey Landstrom, Vice President and Dean of the College Kevin Kraus, and Director of Health Services Diane Tappe.
Landstromg states that the ERT will expand as needed as they continue their work.
“The ERT engages in overall planning and response to campus emergencies,” Landstrom said. “In this case, it is in the planning and preparation stage for a prospective outbreak of COVID-19. This work entails operations across the campus and is intended to identify key questions, needed resources, and actions to take. The ERT provides recommendations to President
Ward and her cabinet.” According to Landstrom, the ERT worked with Luther Communications and Marketing to launch a COVID-19 website that includes prevention information, communication regarding COVID-19, and other web content to inform and provide guides to action for the community. The ERT also works off campus with local and state public health officials, as well as community leaders, in an effort to coordinate their responses.
The ERT will provide updates to the Luther community, parents, and regents in anticipation of any effects that COVID-19 may have on classes, activities, and residence life. They have weekly meetings to adapt the Pandemic Preparation Plan in response to COVID-19.
The plan potentially includes the practice of social distancing, canceling classes for a period of time, moving classes to an online format, or possibly ending the semesterearly.
“The plan must be flexible to the situation at hand, and because the situation is constantly changing, we need to be flexible in our responsiveness,” Landstrom said.
Landstrom and the ERT encourage practicing standard health practices, such as washing hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth, staying home when sick, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, covering coughs or sneezes, and frequently coughs or sneezes, and frequently disinfecting objects and surfaces.
Landstrom notes that students should be prepared for the possibility of an interruption in the semester. One consideration is that because spring break is approaching, students may have to re-evaluate their travel plans. Because the situation in a student’s home community may be different than Decorah’s, students may be at an increased risk of transmission. Landstrom believes that this is one of the many concerns the ERT is considering.
“There are many other considerations that are under review,” Landstrom said. “We ask that students pay special attention to email messages as that is the primary way we are communicating any decisions regarding classes, events, and Luther sponsored travel.”
According to Ward’s email, there are 46 students on international programs and 33 students on programs in Chicago, Denver, Rochester, and Washington, DC. However, there are no Luther students in China, South Korea, Iran, or Italy. These countries have been given a Level Three Travel Notice by the CDC. This means those countries are currently experiencing widespread community transmission, and travelers should avoid nonessential travel. International travel has been highly discouraged and students have been informed that the college may recommend that students who traveled recently enter quarantine for up to two weeks.
Ward assured students that the Center for Global Learning has been in contact with directors of the programs in Nottingham, Münster, and Malta. Directors have passed on any information from the Luther administration to students.
Nathan Sunde (‘21), who is studying abroad in Nottingham, said that Luther has outlined precautions for him and others to use.
“The Nottingham program in particular has been in constant contact with global studies leaders back at Luther,” Sunde said. “We have been told that during our independent travel, there are certain places they might put as ‘off limits’ to protect us from any possible exposure. In addition, they are very open to discussing with us our plans, so as to work out and discuss any issues we may see. As for the current moment, we have been given a small number of protective masks if someone gets infected, for the students who get sick.”
The CGL continues to monitor the study abroad programs, but at this point no students have traveled home early.
Sophie Nall (‘22), who is abroad in Malta, says that her travel experience has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Nall said that students in the Malta program were quarantined and restricted from the University of Malta campus for a week.
“We were recently in Italy with everyone on the Malta program, and even though we were in Rome and Florence and not the more highly affected regions, we saw many people wearing face masks, and clearly everyone is very aware of the virus,” Nall said. “There was one night when people thought that coronavirus had made it to Malta—it hasn’t yet—and the supermarkets were packed with people stocking up.”
The CGL is compiling a list of students traveling through the end of the summer in anticipation of any changes to study abroad programs. The International Music Festival of the Adriatic summer program in Italy has been canceled, while decisions about other summer programs will be made by the end of March. Other than study abroad programs, travel precautions are on the forefront of concerns.
Ward’s second email advises students traveling through countries with sustained transmission of the coronavirus to be aware that their return to the U.S. or to campus may be affected by travel restrictions. The ERT also encourages students and faculty to contact the Student Life Office and the Office of the Dean of the College before any international travel over spring break, and will continue to monitor domestic travel for the remainder of the academic year.