3/9 Update: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 9, 2020

Given the recent events in Nebraska related to COVID-19, and the suspension of in-person classes by some universities around the country, I wanted to provide an additional update to our UNL community on the steps that we are taking.

As you know, on Friday and over the weekend, there were 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Omaha. There are currently no known cases of the novel coronavirus in Lincoln or Lancaster County. Based on consultation with medical officials, and consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any actions that might be taken by UNL would be done in conjunction with local officials and institutions.

Any actions we might eventually take will also be done from the perspective of helping to protect our entire community. Medical officials report that, in general, young people are not seriously impacted by this disease. Some may feel that may not necessitate taking any additional actions at UNL. While it is true that many of our students, faculty and staff may only have mild symptoms should they develop COVID-19, there are some within our UNL community who have suppressed immune systems or are otherwise vulnerable. Additionally, within our state there are many who would have greater vulnerability to the impacts of this disease. It is too soon to say whether actions similar to other universities may be warranted here. But the steps we eventually take will be guided by helping to protect as many people as possible.

COVID-19 in Nebraska

With respect to the immediate concerns about spread of the novel coronavirus in Nebraska, any members of the UNL community who attended the Special Olympics tournament in Fremont on February 29 have been advised to contact the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Those who need to are following the instructions provided to self-quarantine. The Health Department has not advised that any additional actions are necessary for our campus at this point.

Planning/Information

In an effort to be thoughtful and timely in our ability to act, we are actively planning for actions that may need to be taken. As announced last week, we have established a COVID-19 Task Force that is consulting daily with public health officials, the NU system, University of Nebraska Medical Center and others. In an effort to be prepared for possibilities, earlier today, Richard Moberly, our Interim Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, sent a memo to faculty and instructors asking that they: 1) start preparing now for the possibility that our university may suspend in-person classes before the end of the semester; and 2) ensure they are capable of working remotely if necessary.

Also earlier today, the UNL Faculty Senate approved a temporary campus-wide attendance policy for students. Under this new policy, students who are sick or under self-quarantine under the direction of a public Health Department or their personal health care provider will not be required to provide formal documentation and will not be penalized for absences. Students still need to notify their instructors, keep up with classwork as they are able, and work with their instructors to reschedule exams, labs or other academic activities.

Further details on both of these actions are available on our UNL website, covid19.unl.edu. This will be continually updated with new information. If students, faculty or staff have questions for the Task Force, please email them to covid19@unl.edu.

The following is previously shared information provided as an important reminder.

Travel

As announced last week, we have suspended any upcoming university-sponsored travel for our students outside the continental U.S. and Hawaii for the remainder of the spring semester. We expect to make that determination soon on whether to extend this suspension through the summer.

Again, as noted earlier, while we are not placing formal restrictions on university-related travel by faculty or staff at this time, we ask that you carefully consider whether your travel (domestic or international) is essential or might be canceled or postponed to a later date.

Additionally, with spring break approaching later this month, we encourage our students, faculty and staff to be thoughtful about personal travel.

As reminder, due to State Department and CDC travel advisories, University of Nebraska system policy currently restricts student, faculty and staff travel to mainland China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Any UNL-sponsored study abroad programs scheduled to these locations have been canceled for spring and summer.

International Visitors

As a university with global impact, we frequently engage with academic and other representatives from other countries. If you are hosting international visitors, please notify the International Student and Scholar Office at isso@unl.edu. Visitors from several countries will need to check in with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

Personal Protection

I want to reiterate that there are currently no known cases of the novel coronavirus in Lincoln and Lancaster County.

Our medical experts remind us that the best methods to prevent contracting the novel coronavirus are the same for other viruses — handwashing, the use of hand sanitizer, and staying home if you feel ill. The CDC website provides excellent resources for understanding COVID-19, signs and symptoms, and how to keep yourself and loved ones healthy.

Students who believe they may be experiencing symptoms related to the novel coronavirus should contact the University Health Center at 402.472.5000. It is very important to call ahead. This protects you from potential exposure to more serious health issues, and allows our university health officials to provide support for the greatest number of our students.

Faculty and staff who believe they may be experiencing symptoms should contact your personal health care provider.

Going Forward

This is a rapidly unfolding situation, and I understand that our students, faculty and staff will have many questions. We will continue to provide campus updates as needed and to update our COVID-19 website.

Ronnie