As some colleges have suspended all in-person classes, KU studying variety of responses to coronavirus

photo by: Associated Press

In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, students walk in front of Fraser Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

The University of Kansas is continuing to evaluate its plan of action for dealing with the spreading coronavirus, or COVID-19, once spring break ends and classes resume next week.

Among the options being studied is when it would be appropriate for classes to be held in an online-only setting, minimizing the number of people who would need to be on the university’s campuses at any given time.

KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson told the Journal-World on Monday that the emergency management teams for the Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses are continuing to meet and discuss possible scenarios surrounding the respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan, China.

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That includes, she said, a group looking at how academic content delivery and the overall management of the university could change should the virus’ spread progress enough that KU needs to conduct course work electronically — as several colleges around the U.S. are already doing. The University of Washington, Princeton University, and the University of California at Berkeley, among others, have all suspended in-person courses until the virus spread subsides.

Barcomb-Peterson did not directly answer a question about what would have to happen for KU to switch to all-online courses.

Lawrence and the KU Medical Center emergency management teams each consist of about 25 members who regularly meet, with more working behind the scenes on contingency plans within their own units, Barcomb-Peterson said.

The Lawrence team includes representatives from Watkins Health Services, Student Affairs, Faculty Development, Public Affairs, Provost’s Office, KU Public Safety, Emergency Management, KU Housing, International Affairs, KU Information Technology, General Counsel, Kansas Athletics and Global Operations & Security.

“Most important, the (emergency management) groups continue to stay responsive to the newest information from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said in an email.

In its guidance to higher education institutions, the CDC lists closing campuses and holding classes online as solutions for communities that have documented cases of coronavirus.

Kansas, as of Monday afternoon, has confirmed one case of coronavirus, or COVID-19. Gov. Laura Kelly announced Saturday that a woman under the age of 50 had contracted the virus. On Monday, the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., announced the woman, who is from Johnson County, had been admitted for monitoring.

Some of the biggest concern for KU following the weeklong recess will be monitoring the health of students and staff who traveled — especially outside the country.

As of Monday afternoon, Barcomb-Peterson said the university had received the following notices from people who planned on traveling in the coming days and weeks:

• 31 students are on a spring break program in London

• 30 students have registered for international travel over spring break (24 for personal reasons, 6 for university-affiliated travel)

• Around 90 faculty and staff members have voluntarily disclosed personal travel plans since March 2. Half of those were for international travel during dates ranging from late February through early May.

• 25 faculty and staff members have submitted international travel forms for traveling on university business, though dates aren’t exclusive to spring break and several are in the coming months.

It’s unclear how many of those students, faculty and staff will be asked to self-isolate once they return to the Lawrence area. KU previously recalled 43 students who were studying abroad in countries hit hardest by the virus — all of whom were asked to self-isolate upon their return, Barcomb-Peterson said.

If a member of the KU community has symptoms of COVID-19, Barcomb-Peterson said, they’re asked to contact their physician’s office immediately and practice social distancing — essentially the act of avoiding large crowds to prevent the spread of disease.

Also of potential concern to area health officials is the coming Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, scheduled to tip off in Kansas City later this week.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in a Monday press conference that there is currently no evidence of community spread of the coronavirus, and right now it would be safe to proceed with the event as planned — as long as people practice preventative hygiene measures.

“One of the things I think is it’s a balancing act. We have a quality of life and want to support our way of life. The other side of that is are we willing to jeopardize people’s health?” Norman said. “If the tournament were happening today I’d say let’s have fun, and go KU. I would favor moving ahead at this moment in time. But this is changing every day.”

Officials for the Big 12 Conference did not respond to requests for comment from the Journal-World about whether any contingency plans were in place for the tournaments.


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