By Austin Ferguson
Rider’s administration recently unveiled its plan and advice for the school’s community amid international concerns over the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19).
COVID-19, commonly referred to mononymously as coronavirus, had its first confirmed cases in China around New Year’s Eve in 2019. Since then, confirmed cases have appeared around the world, including in the United States.
As of March 3, seven deaths in Washington state had been confirmed to be the result of COVID-19 and two confirmed cases of infection were present in New York, raising alarm to citizens throughout the country.
On Rider’s campus, the administration presented its plans and precautions to the community in an attempt to quell the fears of those with apprehensions about the disease.
The university’s first campus-wide acknowledgment of COVID-19 came on Jan. 28, in a joint statement from Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cindy Threatt and Director of Student Health Services Elizabeth Luciano. The campus-wide email identified fever, cough and shortness of breath as key symptoms to COVID-19, while also advising students that handwashing, staying home when they are sick and limiting contact with students who are sick helps to mitigate the risk of contracting viruses and diseases.
On Feb. 7, Vice President of Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg and Vice President for Human Resources Robert Stoto announced Rider’s cooperation with the guidance of the New Jersey Department of Health, advising that anyone who had traveled to China in the 14 days prior would have to contact university representatives. The statement also noted that students, staff and faculty who were scheduled to travel from China would be postponed until further notice.
Despite the precautions being taken, Fenneberg and Stoto reassured the risk of the virus was low.
“While we are taking precautions, it is important to note that the risk of anyone infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is very low in the United States,” the joint email said. “There are no confirmed cases in New Jersey. The larger concern for our campus community and the general U.S. population is the seasonal flu.”
The email also made an attempt to continue to foster an inclusive community without worry of harassment as a result of COVID-19’s origins in China.
“As members of a diverse and inclusive community, it is particularly important that we be supportive of those in our community who have been affected by this global issue and that we create and maintain an educational environment that is free from discrimination and harassment,” the email said.
On Feb. 28, however, the university’s tone changed with the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the country, with more deaths making the news cycles. An email from university President Gregory Dell’Omo addressed the situation in a message to the Rider community.
“The University continues to closely monitor the evolving worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19),” Dell’Omo began. “The situation is changing quickly. Because the health and safety of each member of our community are of the utmost importance, we want to keep you informed about the virus and any impact it may have on our campuses.”
Within the message, Dell’Omo stated that the university was proceeding with its study abroad plans outside of mainland China, though it was ready for potential changes or cancellations in coordination with the development of COVID-19’s outbreak.
All university announcements have encouraged students concerned about study abroad plans to contact the Center for International Education. Rider also cancelled all university-sponsored travel to mainland China.
Dell’Omo also revealed that Rider University has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 and its effect on the university. On the webpage, frequently asked questions (FAQs) are present for both students and employees.
The employee FAQs page contains advice to staff and faculty to prepare for changes in work plans should the disease spread.
The page includes the consideration of coordination with other staff and faculty should employees become ill, plans for electronic course work on Canvas should a large amount of students become ill and advice to modify policies that “inadvertently encourage ill students to attend classes sooner than they should,” giving opportunities for ill students to work from remote locations.
The university’s webpage dedicated to COVID-19 can be found at www.rider.edu/coronavirus.