Administration responds to COVID-19 concerns in Q&A session

The Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT) hosted a Question & Answer session for students on Wednesday, Jan. 26, to ask questions and concerns about their current COVID-19 policies. The panelists were Megan Scott, the associate vice president of communication; Rich Jazdewski, the dean of wellness services; Matt Baumler, the executive director of alumni and constituency engagement; Mike O’Connor, the dean of the Career Center; Provost Catherine Kodat; and Chris Card, the vice president for student life. 

Q: What should students do since professors aren’t required to set up virtual learning options for those in quarantine and isolation? 

A: Kodat said that the LPPT has been telling faculty that students who are in quarantine and isolation should be given all the opportunities typically given to students who are ill or who need to miss class due to an injury or sickness. Students should reach out to their professor and indicate that they need to miss class for this reason, and then work with them to set up the ways in which they will be able to stay in sync with the class, Kodat said. Students can reach out to the Center for Academic Success.  

Q: Does the previous answer apply to students that are not comfortable going to class and feeling ill for other reasons? 

A: Kodat responded by saying that it also applies to students who are feeling ill. However, Kodat said that simply saying that you feel uncomfortable going to class is a little bit different from saying that you have certain comorbidities or other issues that would make you more susceptible to serious consequences if you were exposed. If that is the case, Kodat said that she urges students to work with the Center of Academic Success to see if there is some kind of accommodation that would help them. Absent of a specific medical reason that would make it difficult for a student to be in person, students aren’t able to simply say that they are not comfortable being in class, and therefore they shouldn’t go, Kodat said.  

Q: Why was the testing partnership switched? Is there anything that could be done to improve the time it takes for test results to come back? Are there plans for finding a better COVID-19 testing partner? 

A: Jazdewski said that they switched partners because the testing partner they are currently using said they would get results back sooner. The current situation with the omicron variant and increased demand for testing has caused some challenges, but they were initially hoping to have test results 24 hours after delivery to the lab, Jazdewski said. However, during fourth week, Jazdewski reported that 95 percent of test results were provided 36 hours after they had been delivered to the lab, so there have been improvements. Jazdewski does not think that LPPT is going to shop around and change partners. 

Q: How can students get rapid tests or be tested more than once a week through the university? 

A: Jazdewski responded by saying that rapid tests do their best work when someone has been symptomatic for over 24 hours. Students who are experiencing symptoms should contact Wellness Services, and if it’s after hours they should contact Campus Safety, which can provide students with a rapid test. There will not be more frequent PCR tests, but PCR testing will continue to happen weekly on Mondays. 

Q: A student noted that some students feel uncomfortable in the classroom because there is no distancing. Can you talk a little bit about classroom safety? 

A: Jazdewski responded by emphasizing Lawrence’s mitigation strategy when it comes to safety in the classroom. LPPT had decided to do two weeks of remote learning to start off the term, and in that time period, all community members were able to test twice. After the testing program, Jazdewski said, LPPT was able to allow folks to get into the classroom because those efforts to mitigate risks were taken. However, he did not address the social distancing concern directly in his answer. 

“As you’re all aware, being together in the classroom is really how we do our best work on a curricular matter,” Jazdewski said. 

Q: Is it possible to open up large meeting rooms in Warch for distance eating? 

A: As of today, Mead Witter on the second level and an open area on the fourth floor have been set up for distance eating, Card said. The challenge is that many of the rooms in Warch are meeting spaces for a variety of activities on campus. On occasion, Mead Witter will not be open for dining due to events that have been booked. 

Q: Is it possible to have more clamshells in Andrew Commons?  

A: Andrew Commons is now handing out clamshells at no cost, Card said. The absence of clamshells has been related to supply chain issues.  

Q: Why is Andrew Commons closed to current students’ parents and relatives, but prospective students and their families are allowed to eat there? 

A: Baumler, who works with Lawrence guests, said that this is not currently the practice because Andrew Commons is not open for full capacity dining. The only people who are allowed to eat in that space are those within the campus community, Baumler said. Looking to different modes of operation, there may be a time when prospective students are in that space. LPPT is open to organized guest activity and the admissions office monitors the health and safety of guests and their interactions with the campus community, Baumler said. 

Q: Will KN95 masks be available?  

A: KN95 masks are currently available in residence halls and different areas across campus, Jazdewski said.  

Q: Why are COVID-19-positive students allowed to stay in dorms among other COVID-19-negative students? 

A: If someone tests positive, they are being put in isolation away from the community, Jazdewski said. LPPT is doing that in the quickest way possible, he said. 

Q: What are the consequences given to students who violate the Pledge? 

A: Right now, there is a small group of students that LPPT does not have two negative tests back from, as was required for students to go back to class, O’Connor, who helps with compliance, said. Out of those students, only a handful have violated the policy by going to class. LPPT has been communicating with professors to ensure that students that are out of compliance with the school’s protocols are not in class. And for students who have been to class, LPPT has been following up with them and working to assess punitive measures, O’Connor said.  

Card then mentioned the COVID-19 reporting form and informed the audience that although the reporter of the violator will not be informed of the outcome, they are currently tweaking the system to acknowledge to the reporter that they have gotten the report and are acting on it. Reports are being acted on.  

Jazdewski then encouraged students to continue to make reports when they see a student violating the Pledge repeatedly. If LPPT is unaware that this behavior is happening, they assume that the Pledge is being followed, Jazdewski said. He also reminded students to send their booster shot information to Wellness Services if they have received their booster shot. 

Q: A student wrote saying that people in the Conservatory always forget to use the clock faces in the practice rooms that indicate how much time has passed since the last occupant. Is there a way to remind people to use the clock faces? 

A: 90 percent of the time, there are multiple open practice rooms for students to use, they said, but at busy hours, using the clock faces is really important. A reminder will be sent to faculty and students to use the clock faces. 

Q: Is there a designated place in the Conservatory for students to eat a quick lunch or dinner? 

A: Because of the way that the Conservatory is set up, there is not a place in the Conservatory that can be designated for eating. 

Q: Why are on-campus cases grouped with off-campus cases on the COVID-19 dashboard? 

A: It is more important to know how many cases are active and how many new cases there are each week, rather than knowing where they are coming from, Jazdewski said.  

Q: What are the limits on each color of the stoplight guide? Is there a number of cases that would require a shutdown or is it decided more subjectively? 

A: The factors are test positivity, burden rate, the amount of space available for quarantine and isolation, the city of Appleton and Outagamie County burden and positivity rates and hospital capacity, Jazdewski said. These metrics help inform where they are on the stoplight guide, and then they decide mitigation strategies particular to the highest-risk areas, Jazdewski said. 

Q: Is there a plan for students if there is an outbreak on campus?  

A: We are going through the outbreak right now. There are plans upon plans to deal with different situations, Jazdewski said.  

Q: Why are only athletic travel events allowed? Why isn’t other travel considered? 

A: When thinking about things from an academic perspective, the school needs to make sure we’re not putting people at risk, Jazdewski said. NCAA works very closely with the Sports Science Institute to make decisions for athletes. Student athletes are tested at a much higher rate than the general community, Jazdewski said. 

Q: Looking forward, has LPPT set any positive goals to ease restrictions on campus? In what circumstances will things ever return to normal? 

A: There isn’t a specific goal. We are in the process of going through a pandemic, Jazdewski said. The goal is to continue to meet our academic goals and the wellbeing of students. They are waiting for indicators that will allow for restrictions to be reduced. Card added the easing of restrictions relies on the compliance of campus community, but more open dining spaces and greater student room capacity is the goal. LPPT said that it is being cautious and keeping the wellbeing of the community and the students that are most vulnerable at top of mind. 

Q: When will LPPT start to treat COVID-19 more like the flu, more like an endemic? 

A: Jazdewski asked rhetorically, “You want an exact date?” As the virus continues to decrease, the university will open up. LPPT is relying on science, both Jazdewski and Card said. 

Q: Please speak about cleanliness and housing, specifically houses on the quad. It’s gross and it seems that there is no one coming to clean. 

A: Card said that’s an issue that he will take up with his colleagues and facilitators. There is a schedule for cleaning, and houses should be clean, so Card said that the situation is concerning and he will check to see what’s going on. 

Q: Will the university take measures to treat COVID-19-positive students? 

A: Wellness Services nurses connect to students who have a positive test and give them a variety of information about self-care, Jazdewski said. Most of the Lawrence community is not currently eligible for monoclonal antibodies, but the university’s partners in healthcare are working to make COVID-19 pills available to the community, Jazdewski said. At this point, specific recommendations about healthcare are given by physicians directly to the student rather than through nurse and staff in Wellness Services. Jazdewski emphasized that the recommendations given by Wellness Services are backed by science.