Dear Members of the City College Community,
I wanted to write with a few updates about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and how we are handling things that may impact campus operations. I’m sending this memo to the campus, but we’ll immediately post it onto the web (there will be a prominent link on the homepage). In this memo, I’ll discuss what we know about keeping the campus safe and secure, talk about travel in general (mainly referring you to a memo the Chancellor distributed yesterday) and finally discussing what we need to do today to prepare for contingencies in the future.
First, let’s talk about hygiene and safety. The single most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe is to wash your hands carefully and refrain from touching your face. Spending time yesterday with our University Dean of the CUNY School of Public Health, I heard a few things repeatedly: hand sanitizers have virtually no effect in keeping you safe. Cleaning surface areas may give us a sense of security, but is also largely ineffective in ridding an area of germs (although CUNY is exploring entering into a contract with a firm that could come in and do deep cleaning and sanitization if we need it). We will try to limit exposure to the virus by curtailing non-essential travel for staff, faculty and students, identifying people who may have been exposed to the virus or contracted the illness, and following testing and quarantine protocols outlined by City and State Health Departments. The clearest statement of University policy on these matters—policies that we will follow on campus—can be found here: https://www.cuny.edu/coronavirus/
Second, the places where you can and cannot go will vary with the spread of the virus. In general, we are limiting travel to places under CDC level 2 and 3 warnings—and you should check those warning levels by following this link: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices
The University and New York State Governor’s Office have already cancelled a range of study abroad programs. While we are still taking applications for summer programs, students should put in back-up applications, in case the country you’re planning to visit comes under a heightened CDC warning. We should all remember, however, that when you travel by plane to a country, you are likely to spend time in close proximity with people who have spent time in a variety of places, and so my advice is to carefully consider the balance between the need to travel and the need to protect yourself. A copy of the University’s guidelines for travel can be found here:
Staff and faculty are also advised to take every precaution and limit travel to affected areas. Specific guidelines for what happens if you happen to travel to a place that comes under a raised CDC warning can be found here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices
Finally, as a campus we need to begin preparations for what we’d do if the situation worsens. I want to be really careful about saying this: there is no reason to think that we will need to close campus. We will make that decision only on the measured and informed advice of healthcare professionals. We will be transparent about what we hear and why we are doing what we’re doing—but we won’t be driven by panic into a rash decision. Nor will we delay taking the steps we are advised to take in order to meet this challenge.
Still, faculty, staff and students should begin preparing themselves to engage with one another over the internet instead of in the classroom, in the event that a need for such distance engagement arises. Everyone on blackboard will have access to the program’s video conferencing capacity (Blackboard Collaborate). We should all learn how to use it, and faculty members should test their classes’ capacities to connect up. Staff in offices should also begin to learn about what resources we have for video and teleconferencing, cloud file sharing and remote access to voicemail in case offices need to close. We should all make sure that we know who does and does not have access to the internet—either on phones or computers. I don’t at the moment know what we can do to provision people without that capacity, but the question was placed before CUNY, and we need to know the scope of the gap in order to think about what, if anything, we can do to fill it. I have asked our IT department to produce a list of resources we have that enable distance learning and meeting video conferencing, along with instructions to help you get up to speed on these. We will disseminate these resources as soon as we have them, but in the meantime, practice what you know and get ready to do a test run.
Teaching faculty and staff should know that moving a class on line requires permission of your chair and dean, and should be a matter for explicit approval; students who signed up for an in-person class should be able to expect a classroom experience unless a specific reason to move on line presents itself. I’ll also reiterate here my call to faculty and staff to be as flexible as possible with absences and the need to accommodate illness in other ways. It’s hard to anticipate what that will look like, and we should expect that different cases will require different kinds of adjustments. But we should all be flexible and empathetic to people who require flexibility and empathy of us.
Finally, I’ll ask all of you, but particularly faculty and staff, to learn and understand the various memos of instruction that you’ll find on our web pages. Students, and your colleagues, will likely come to you with questions and it will be important both to give accurate advice, and to direct them to sources of authoritative information.
In the case that you come down with what you believe could be COVID-19, we ask that you use precaution before coming to work. Notify your supervisor immediately via phone or email, and they will guide you on the next steps to take. CUNY is working on an HR document to address the issue of absences due to illness, and until that document is disseminated, we ask that all of our colleagues across campus take extra care to stay at home if you’re feeling ill and believe it to be serious.
The New York State Department of Health Hotline number regarding the coronavirus is: 1-888-364-3065 https://www.health.ny.gov/