SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in a letter Tuesday that the university is taking additional steps, including distributing information about prevention, cleaning high-touch surfaces, and making preparations to support the possibility of teaching classes online if necessary, as concerns grow about COVID-19.
Turner said while university officials are preparing faculty to teach online if necessary, that possibility isn’t imminent as of Tuesday.
He said in his letter that the university’s emergency operations center has been meeting about the issue and university officials are using information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dallas County Health and Human Services in making decisions.
“The campus will likely be most vulnerable when our community returns from domestic and international travel after spring break. As we have made clear, university policy has no role in governing your personal travel. However, any country you visit may be designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a level 3 (high-risk) country even after you arrive, subjecting you to sudden travel restrictions that could impact your work or studies at SMU,” Turner continued.
Federal, state and local health organizations are recommending that all travelers returning to the U.S. from a CDC level 3 country stay home for a period of 14 days from the time they left the impacted country.
“Many of you are asking whether the university will need to cancel all in-person classes to block the spread of the virus. As of today, that possibility is not imminent, but we have contingency plans in place if that becomes necessary. We have no current plans to close our residence halls during or after spring break,” Turner said.
The March 10 letter comes the day Dallas County health officials confirmed its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 and shortly after SMU suspended university-sponsored or sanctioned international travel March 2.
The university also announced March 10 that a procedure is in place by which faculty, staff, and graduate students can request permission for SMU-sponsored and/or sanctioned international travel through an automated system established by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. The system will guide the applicant through a series of questions to evaluate the request and, if approved, set out requirements for completing that travel.
Paramount to approval is the understanding that the traveler assumes certain risks, such as the potential for travel delays.
Approval would also require confirmation that any teaching obligations will be covered should travelers be delayed in returning from their destination.