New A-State Campus Restrictions Related to COVID-19
This release from Arkansas State University Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse.
Our world has changed in dramatic and rapid ways here at Arkansas State. It is hard to believe that just seven days ago, we were waking up to the damage of an EF-3 tornado. It was just one month ago that I sent an email to campus announcing that we may need to prepare for shifting to online instructional delivery. As we wake up on this first Sunday of April, it is time for our campus family to embrace more changes and additional procedures to maximize as much as possible the safety of our community.
Remote Lab and Building Closures
Our Provost, Dr. Alan Utter, and I met with our academic deans on Friday, and we concluded that we will no longer keep academic buildings open for voluntary lab work or access to remote computer lab spaces. With community spread upon us, I have directed that most academic buildings close and that access to them be restricted only to essential personnel until further notice. Our deans have been communicating this news with their faculty and staff members this weekend, and they are beginning the process of shutting down practice and computer lab spaces.
Only employees and students who are engaged in research or work that their supervisors have deemed to be essential in meeting critical functions will have continued access to our academic buildings. Others who can complete their work elsewhere will be asked to ramp down their on-campus work as soon as practical.
Non-academic buildings are also closed to non-essential personnel and students, such as the Delta Center for Economic Development, Cooper Alumni Center, and the Wilson Advising Center. Other buildings have significantly reduced access: Facilities Management, IT Services, and the Administration Building.
Restrictions on Public Spaces
Our on-campus student population reduced significantly after last week’s request to return home if able. To protect the remaining students, and the employees who must continue to report to campus, we are enacting further restrictions. All public spaces in the Reng Student Union are closed, and entry into the Union is restricted to students or employees who are picking up food in the area outside Acansa Dining Hall, at Starbucks or purchasing items at the Campus Store. All lounge or seating areas on the first and second floor of the Union will be closed, along with the entire third floor. The Union is only open to A-State employees and students (or individuals doing business in the union) until further notice.
Beginning Monday, April 6, most floors of the Dean B. Ellis Library will be restricted to only essential personnel who work in the library and students who use the Ellis Library computer lab on the second floor. This will allow students who are living on campus to have access to a computer while also allowing us to ensure that users are compliant with physical distancing guidelines. It will also make it easier for A-State staff to focus on keeping up with disinfecting these more limited common areas on a regular basis. The Library is only open to A-State employees and students until further notice.
Online health screenings and masks
Beginning Monday, April 6, and until further notice, all essential personnel who will be reporting to campus and students who are on campus will be asked to participate in the daily online health screening questionnaire. Also, the new CDC guidelines recommend that people use a cloth mask, or other simple cloth face coverings, while they are in public spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible or practical. Governor Asa Hutchinson also encouraged that practice in his Saturday press conference. The CDC is not encouraging the public to wear surgical or hospital-grade N95 masks - we need to keep those for our healthcare professionals. We are not requiring the wearing of cloth masks when you walk around campus, but I did want to bring this new guidance to your attention. If you want to learn more, go to this new website page at the CDC.
The reason to make these changes is to protect not only our broader university community by enforcing physical distancing, but also to make it safer for our students who remain on campus and our essential personnel who must continue reporting to work on campus. Over the past week, I have received several reports of individuals not practicing physical distancing procedures on campus. In addition to all the students who are on campus because they have no other alternative, we also have employees who are working in the Union, the residence halls, the Library, and in other vital units across campus. We must do everything that we can to keep everyone on our campus safe.
For all the times the word “closed” is used in today’s email, I want to restate what is obvious to us, but missed sometimes: Arkansas State University is still open. Our students and instructors are continuing the spring semester’s academic work via online delivery. Many of our faculty and students continue to engage in research (either at home or on campus). Our employees are continuing to keep the business of the university going remotely. Our Admissions Office is also keeping our recruiting efforts moving ahead as we begin planning for the fall semester (and, we all hope, a return to near normalcy).
So that is where we are today. We, all of us, are all working daily to manage the immediate crisis while also planning for our future. In the weeks ahead, once we get this semester settled in the wake of our COVID-19 response and the tornado recovery efforts, we must indeed start thinking about what is next. But for now, our efforts are focused only on the health and safety of our A-State family and ensuring that our campus is able to complete the basics of our fundamental missions of teaching, research, and service.
I am reminded from a moment in the movie Apollo 13, when the crew was at its most exasperated. What about this? What about that? And so on. To bring order to the crisis, Commander Jim Lovell said, “All right, there's 1,000 things that have to happen in order, we are on #8. You're talking about #692.” In a different scene, Flight Director Gene Kranz told his NASA team, “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”
Every day for the past five weeks, I have seen members of our campus leadership (faculty, staff, students, and administrators) addressing issues in turn and taking care not to make a mistake by guessing or getting too far ahead of ourselves. At the top of our list right now is developing policies and procedures related to the possible community spread of the coronavirus, modifying building closures and physical distancing rules, considering grade modifications, planning for summer school, and managing the COVID-19 related state budget shortfall. I have been proud to watch those leaders not rush into decisions without considering their unintended consequences.
In time, we will be able to turn our attention to other tasks (e.g., room/board/Flex refunds, the fall semester, and our strategic plan, which was about to be released last month). For now, those tasks and others have necessarily been pushed lower in our hierarchy of needs. I am so thankful for everyone’s patience as we let our leaders continue to “work the problem.”