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Recent Coronavirus Events Prompt Additional Action, Coordination and Planning
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
The first case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York state and the second death in the United States caused by the virus were confirmed yesterday. These developments, combined with news over the weekend of the pace at which the virus is spreading, have understandably been cause for concern among members of the Syracuse University community and the greater Central New York region. I know this because I have heard directly from many students, parents and families, faculty, staff, and local leaders and community members. Accordingly, I want to keep all of you well informed about the important work under way to prepare our community.
As I’ve shared previously, the University continues to monitor developments associated with the spread of the novel coronavirus. Our efforts have progressed in close collaboration with the Onondaga Health Department and the New York State Department of Health and have been informed by guidance and directives issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, in the face of uncertain and still unknown challenges, it is imperative that Syracuse University act with purpose to ensure the health and safety of our community and to also safeguard—on behalf of our students and faculty—the continuity of our academic and scholarly mission.
To that end, Syracuse University has already taken a number of steps to respond to and prepare for the possible spread of the virus. These actions include suspending our academic program in Florence; implementing travel restrictions to Italy, Korea and China; and convening a Universitywide task force to prepare for the possibility of coronavirus making its way to our campus. Effective immediately, we are taking additional actions to strengthen our preparedness.
- Our most critical partners in the face of a potential novel coronavirus pandemic will be the Onondaga County Health Department and the New York State Department of Health. Under Andrew Cuomo’s leadership, the state is acting boldly to activate and resource preparedness across agencies and partners. Accordingly, later this morning, I will travel to Albany to meet directly with senior leaders from the SUNY system, the New York State Education Department (NSYED), the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Legislature to discuss policies and best practices supporting a coordinated and collaborative coronavirus response plan for Syracuse University.
- We must also acknowledge that Syracuse University is but one member of an interconnected network of educational and health care institutions in Central New York. For that reason, on Thursday, Feb. 27, Syracuse University convened the first meeting of a coalition of area institutions—including SUNY-ESF, Crouse Hospital, SUNY Upstate Medical Center, the Onondaga County Health Department and others—who have committed to work collaboratively to prepare for a wide variety of novel coronavirus response scenarios and prevention initiatives.
- The University has directed all abroad centers to develop an operational plan in the event additional academic programs need to urgently and with limited notice suspend operations and assist students with relocation or return to campus. Steve Bennett, senior vice president for international programs and academic operations, and Erika Wilkens, associate provost and executive director of Syracuse Abroad, are working closely with center directors to prepare these contingency plans, which will include how to operationalize them quickly.
- The University is asking all students, faculty and staff to review the CDC anti-stigma guidelines issued recently regarding coronavirus. The CDC advises that we collectively focus on the disease that is causing the problem and avoid casting blame on individuals, cultures or nationalities. For example, as we have reported on multiple occasions, if you see an individual wearing a protective mask on campus that does not mean the individual is sick, but likely taking extra precautions to protect themselves. This is common in many countries and cultures and should not be ridiculed, judged or stigmatized.
- Lastly, out of an abundance of caution, the University has initiated reasonable preparations to ensure academic and operational continuity in the event the institution is required to suspend residential operations for some period of time prior to the end of the spring semester. For that reason, Interim Provost John Liu and I have asked the Syracuse University Center for Online and Digital Learning—in collaboration with the schools, colleges and Information Technology Services—to develop an actionable plan that will allow our faculty to engage students in distance learning to meet course contact hour requirements and learning objectives that have not been completed if it becomes necessary to suspend residential learning. While at this time we do not have any indications that such a response will be required, it’s my strong belief that we are obligated to take action now to ensure our students are afforded every opportunity to complete their spring semester academic coursework should public health concerns preclude normal operations.
This proactive preparation is not intended to alarm anyone. However, it has become clear that we must be ready to deploy a strategy that takes into account the health and safety of our community as well as the academic obligations we have to our students. We will continue to communicate action we are taking while also advising on new guidance issued by the CDC and other key agencies.
Chancellor Kent Syverud