On June 24, 2020, the ONU Board of Trustees endorsed the University’s COVID-19 safety plan for resuming in-person education for fall semester 2020. The plan was developed by incorporating the informed efforts of several work groups and special teams, leadership reviews undertaken over several weeks, and helpful suggestions during a campus comment period. The plan was reviewed and fine-tuned throughout the summer to ensure continued compliance with guidance from federal and state governments and the local health department. This fall, ONU executed its implementation plan derived from the work done over the summer. Students, faculty and staff have worked tirelessly over the past seven months to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of every member of the ONU community remains our top priority. These are their stories.
Early on in the planning for in-person education to happen this fall semester, the University’s COVID-19 task force recognized the importance students were going to play in a successful fall semester. Students would need to not only follow protocols set forth in the implementation plan themselves, but they would need to encourage their peers to do so as well. In many instances, students were given agency in the fight against the coronavirus by official roles within the University’s response.
The “Temperature Hit Squad” is a student-run initiative on campus that has helped reinforce the Polar Pledge commitment to monitor body temperatures this fall. Ryan Waldschmidt, a fifth-year pharmacy student and president of the ONU American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) chapter helped initiate the squad as an additional means of identifying students with temperatures above 100.4 degrees, one of the key symptoms of COVID-19.
“We set up on a random day/time in McIntosh Center twice a week and take the temperatures of students as they enter the cafeteria to eat. We use infrared thermometers borrowed from the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy to record temperatures. In the event we come across a student with a fever, we make an intervention and refer the student to the ONU Health Center for further monitoring,” he says.
The screening service provided by the squad has helped keep ONU students, faculty and staff safe, and has provided a meaningful outreach opportunity for the APhA-ASP chapter. Waldschmidt credits Chelsea Huppert, patient care vice president, and outreach chairs Ciara Sauto and Taylor Niese for the program’s continued success. Chapter advisors Dr. Jessica Hinson, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, and Dr. Ben Aronson, assistant professor of social and administrative pharmacy, as well as the Raabe College of Pharmacy’s director of outreach programming, Dr. Michelle Musser, have all contributed considerable time and effort to see this program come to life in such a short period of time. According to Waldschmidt, the squad was assembled and recording student temperatures within a week of being tasked to do so by the administration.
Being on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 on campus, coupled with some timely coursework (he’s currently enrolled in an infectious disease module that studied COVID) has given Waldschmidt a better understanding of what it will take from everyone on campus to keep case numbers low.
“In my opinion, it is a miracle of God that the numbers have been as low as they have been. Someone has been praying over this campus! I have heard of other campuses our size reaching the 100s in cases, and others staying completely virtual,” he says. “We get to be here and learn in person, which speaks a lot to how successful ONU has been in managing COVID.”
Unfortunately, the country is in the midst of a third wave of COVID-19 cases, with many states setting records for new daily infections. Waldschmidt is concerned about pandemic fatigue and that students will let their guard down to the precautions the University has set forth in the implementation plan. He knows just how dangerous large gatherings can be if proper guidelines are not strictly enforced. He’s also worried about the impact defiant students – those who don’t want to wear a mask, or may ignore COVID symptoms – can have on everyone else.
“The best thing we can do at this point is not let our guard down until a vaccine comes out and/or the cases of COVID outside ONU are more under control,” he says. “Wear a mask. Before you leave the house, check for wallet, keys, phone and mask. And finally, pray. Pray for our campus and pray for health care professionals. My experience as a Christian has prepared me in the fight against COVID. In a world full of divide, COVID is one issue we can all unify together to fight collectively, and I am confident that God can work through this pandemic to help unify us against this common enemy.”