Dear Members of the City College Community,
CUNY and CCNY are closely monitoring the latest updates and developments regarding COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, a respiratory illness causing flu-like symptoms. As a campus, we are following CDC and New York (City and State) Health Department guidelines. There are currently no changes to our normal routines and activities, and we hope not to make such changes. Any update to that situation will be posted on the college’s website, and we’ll update that as soon as any need arises. Your first stop on campus, if you need information about CCNY conditions or activities regarding the virus, should be the college homepage.
The virus has now spread outside of its apparent origin site in China, with a (currently) small number of people in the US sick with the illness. The illness is highly communicable and while at this writing there are no known cases in New York State or in neighboring states, we need to begin preparations. A contagious disease in an open society will spread, and so information about how many people have contracted the illness or where they are can change very quickly. Without inducing panic, we should begin to take sensible steps to protect our health and safety. This is a rapidly changing situation and we are continually assessing it.
In this memo, I’ll lay out where you can find information on the virus, what measures you should take as an individual, and what preparations the college is making. I’ll also talk briefly about how we’re thinking about international travel, absences, and whatever adjustments we may need to make in the standard operation of the college.
The first step is to make sure we know as much as we can about the illness, how to avoid areas of higher risk, and what to do if we, or someone we know begin to exhibit symptoms. Being informed will also help temper whatever anxiety you may be feeling. We are monitoring authoritative sources for information about the spread of this virus, and you can do the same by checking into the following websites, which contain good, solid information:
Perhaps most immediately, I want to urge you all to take whatever important steps are available to safeguard your health, and the health of those around you.
Most important, if you feel sick, do not come to school. We need to overcome the urge to show how tough or committed we are by showing up despite a hacking cough or a persistent sneeze. You’re not doing anyone any favors if you fight through illness and show up on campus.
Other steps include washing your hands frequently with soap and water, covering your mouth when you sneeze with either a tissue or the inside of your elbow, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs, and avoiding contact with livestock. The New York City Department of Health website also recommends that you get a flu shot; it won’t prevent the virus, but you are more vulnerable when your health is compromised by other illnesses like the flu. On campus, we will make sure that soap dispensers and paper towels are stocked in all of our bathrooms, including those normally equipped with just blow dryers (it might be a good idea to avoid using those dryers while this virus is in circulation). I’ve also asked our facilities crew to explore installing hand sanitizer dispensers on campus, but you might consider bringing your own supply with you as well.
As I mentioned earlier, to date the only changes to our normal activities have to do with travel to the affected areas. At the end of this memo, in italics, you’ll find CUNY’s guidance regarding study abroad programs, and my thoughts on others of us who may travel.
Should the need arise for the college to make more systematic or drastic adjustments to our educational processes, we will do so with the twin goals in mind of helping us continue to deliver on our educational mission while keeping our community safe. I have asked our IT department to explore how we would manage a situation in which instruction moves from classroom engagement to on-line, either to accommodate individual students who cannot come to school for some reason, or on a broader scale. We’re not, of course, talking about a rapid transition to full-fledged on-line education, but rather about establishing ways that allow students to continue to make progress and faculty to continue to teach. I hope to have more to say about this in the coming days.
Finally, I ask everyone in the CCNY community to be as flexible as we can be in dealing with this situation, most particularly in our need to adjust program requirements, excuse absences, provide make up examinations, and even—should the need arise—develop ways of delivering the curriculum in ways that allow students to participate from home, handle assignments remotely, and the like.
As I sat down to write this memo, I was deeply conscious of the need to strike a balance between panic and complacency. The time to prepare for a crisis is before it comes, when relative calm conditions allow us to take sensible preventive measures. The more you learn about this virus, the better positioned you will be to effectively protect yourself. But I also want to emphasize that virtually every element that I’ve recommended here represents good, common-sense health and hygiene. As the situation evolves, we will make whatever adjustments we need to make, and I trust we will do so with the full support of our community, in the light of our shared interest in our collective wellbeing.
- Under CUNY’s International Travel Guidelines, travel to countries under a CDC travel warning is not allowed. The CDC’s travel notices are the most pertinent and should be the primary point of reference in this situation, even when corresponding State Department travel advisories are significantly lower, so make sure you use the link posted above to access their site.
- If a student has not yet traveled to a location that has been escalated to a CDC level 3 warning (or a level 3 or 4 Department of State advisory), the student should not travel to that program, even if the partner or provider has not canceled the program. The option of placement in a program in a third country can be offered to students who have not left the U.S. CUNY is working on solutions to minimize impact on their academic progress and financial aid eligibility.
- For students who are already abroad in a location that has been escalated to a CDC level 3 warning (or a level 3 or 4 Department of State advisory): CUNY is working on solutions to minimize impact on your academic progress and financial aid eligibility. Importantly, though, you should prioritize your personal health and safety. We will consult with such students (and, where applicable, their families) and arrive at a decision for them to remain on site or attempt to return home. In reaching these decisions, we will consider transportation options, whether the local health care system is prepared for an outbreak, whether the program is offering remote options for students to complete coursework until classes can resume on campus, and student preferences. Students’ options are limited to staying on-site or returning to the U.S.; they should not be placed in programs in third countries.
- All students planning to return should confirm immediately once they have been readmitted to the U.S., and their progress should be carefully monitored. This applies in particular to students without U.S. citizenship. Returnees’ status should be reported to email@example.com .
- Students whose destinations are not yet classified as level 3 by the CDC, but whose concerns about traveling or remaining abroad should also be offered support to return and to minimize disruptions to their academic progress and eligibility for financial aid.
These regulations specifically apply to students on study abroad programs, but they establish a good set of rules for anyone in our community who is traveling: do not go to places under a CDC level 2 or 3 warning. If you are in a place that comes under threat, prioritize your health, but you may also liaise with the college to see what assistance we might provide in helping you navigate the trip home, or weigh the pros and cons of staying on-site. If you have returned from an area and fear you might have been exposed to the virus, have yourself checked out before you come to campus, and if you start to exhibit symptoms, get treatment. The NYC Health Department link, above, also has some protocols for home self-diagnosis, to give you a better sense of whether you should see your care provider. Remember, though, that self-diagnosis is provisional rather than authoritative. I urge anyone who has reason to think they are at risk of having been exposed to take every precaution to ensure their own health ad that of the community.