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News “Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Social distance”

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​Melanie Gasmen​/THE REVIEW​
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, deans and department chairs needed to develop protocols to keep their students and staff safe.​

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, deans and department chairs needed to develop protocols to keep their students and staff safe, especially those who will be in-person during the fall semester.

In an email statement, Eric Furst, the chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said that his department follows all of the university’s guidance, such as frequent health screening, contact tracing and wearing masks.

“The faculty and [Teaching Assistants (TAs)] have worked hard to prepare for this unusual teaching situation,” Furst said in an email.

Furst said that the department’s aim is to “support its students towards their educational and professional goals.” He also acknowledged that the current circumstances are “difficult” and that his team is doing everything they can to get through the pandemic.

“I hope that every member of the university community will take up the mantle and contribute to solutions to battling the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects,” Furst said in an email.

In an email statement to The Review, Megan Everhart, a communications specialist for the university’s School of Music, said that they are following all protocols just like Furst’s department. Everhart said that their students mostly missed out on their individual instrument instruction, an “absolutely essential part of developing musicianship.”

Everhart said that due to bandwidth issues, microphone quality and home environment virtual lessons can be “ineffective” for some. However, virtual lessons will be available during the fall semester for those students who prefer online learning. There will also be strict mask policies, cleaning schedules and reduced room capacities as per the university’s guidelines.

“We support UD’s Protect the Flock initiative to encourage safe behavior among the student body in and out of the classroom, and we hope to complete fall semester without changes to our schedule,” Everhart said in the statement. “However, if at any point UD determines that the risk of being on campus is too great, we are prepared to offer the best possible online experience to all our students.”

HSC front desk

​Courtesy of Regina Porter​/THE REVIEW​
A hand washing station (left) and the plexiglass shield (right) at the front desk of the STAR Health Complex.

Velia Fowler, the chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, said that her department follows the university’s procedures but that it was a challenge to find the best strategy for in-person classes.

“Doing experiments is a hands-on experience; it’s like cooking,” Fowler said. “You can’t just learn all the recipes online, you need to try it for yourself. We can teach a lot about the scientific method online but not physically do experiments.”

Fowler said that one major issue is that for the big labs — usually around 24 students — the TA walks around the room, points out materials and helps students with any issues they may have. However, according to guidelines from the university, the TAs have to be six feet apart and cannot talk to any one student for more than 10 minutes.

“It became impractical to do labs because of the social distancing precautions,” Fowler said. “We tried to do a hybrid format where 12 students are in-person, the rest online, and they alternate weeks, but we just realized that it didn’t make sense, economically, for the families.”

All the larger introductory, cross-major biology labs are now online, but the department came up with a creative solution.

The department’s microbiology lab coordinator created home kits for their students. Fowler added that these kits are “sophisticated,” but do not contain any hazardous chemicals or substances. The kits allow students to do the experiments from the safety of their homes and apartments.

“We did a pilot program [with the kits] for some of these big classes, and the students really seemed to like it,” Fowler said. “They got to repeat the experiments.”

outside Innovation Lab

​Courtesy of Regina Porter​/THE REVIEW
​Masked mannequins outside the STAR Innovation Lab.

Even though the big introductory science labs had challenges, the five smaller “experimental investigative labs” could be planned to be delivered in person. According to Fowler, these labs are 300 and 400-level classes and primarily consist of juniors and seniors who need the classes for their majors.

“Since these labs only have around half the number of students compared to the larger labs, students can sit in the room and have a mix of explanatory demonstrations and some hands-on instruction as well as looking at samples under a microscope,” Fowler said. “But everybody is wearing masks and social distancing, following all the recommended procedures.”

According to Fowler, during the summer five individuals in the university’s research community tested positive for the coronavirus. Even though the university closed back in March, researchers were allowed to return to campus in June. As per university protocol, the lab was closed down for 24 hours while it underwent extensive cleaning by Custodial and University Services, and reopened immediately thereafter. The infected parties were isolated and any and all people who were in close contact were notified of the positive test.

“[Science labs] are not the same, but we’re all stuck,” Fowler said. “However, we have taken this challenging opportunity to be more creative in our course delivery and strived to provide the best education to our students under the circumstances.”

Kathleen Matt and Regina Porter, the dean and the chief of staff of the College of Health Sciences (CHS), respectively, both said that keeping their students, clinicians and patients safe is their number one priority even while teaching them during a pandemic. Matt and Porter said that they do not want to put anybody unless there is a “very large” benefit of doing something.

“First and foremost we really do want to keep the students safe,” Matt said.

HSC signage outside classrooms

​Courtesy of Regina Porter​/THE REVIEW
Some signage at the STAR Tower.

Matt said that some of the classes are in-person, but others were “adapted” to be online. Primarily juniors, seniors and graduate students will remain on campus in order to do their simulations and clinicals.

“We were preparing to do hybrid classes originally so that some of it was going to be online and some of it was going to be in-person” Matt said. “And then when [the university] asked us to flip and really do most of the courses online … we didn’t want to make someone come to the university for just one class.”

Matt said that one of the challenges with the health science students is that after they finish, whether they are seniors or graduates, they will need to sit down for a professional exam, which requires a certain number of in-person hours to complete.

Matt said that the staff got “very creative” when trying to move everything online.

“They’ve even done videotapes of some things within the laboratories or with patients so that individuals are able to see those things online and then have discussions and interactions on all that,” Matt said.

Matt said that CHS uses telehealth, which allows patients to have virtual visits with their medical providers via computer. A major focus is teaching their students “multimodality,” as Matt put it.

“That’s really been a wonderful experience for most of our students,” Matt said. “As much as they want to meet [patients] in-person, being able to do these telehealth visits, they’re able to see more different kinds of patients. The patients don’t have to come to them so they’re more accessible.”

Tower signage

​Courtesy of Regina Porter/THE REVIEW
Some of the signage outside one of the classrooms at STAR.

Porter believes that telehealth is an industry that will continue to grow and that CHS’ students are at an advantage to have the opportunity to learn about it, especially during a critical time such as the ongoing pandemic.

According to Matt and Porter, the CHS’ clinics remained open for a few weeks after the university officially closed back in March. Eventually, they had to close down because “it had gotten so bad.” CHS’ other clinical programs across Delaware also stopped their outpatient services. Both were a result of decreasing patient numbers, Matt explained.

Matt explained that CHS went through a “health advisory committee” that includes herself, other university professors, various administrators such as University President Dennis Assanis and several government officials. Matt said that her team requested to reopen the clinics because many of their students needed the hours.

“As you can imagine, trying to do physical therapy over telehealth … it works a little bit, but it’s obviously not the same,” Matt said.

According to Matt, physical therapy and primary care were the first two clinics to open. The speech therapy clinic reopened in August.

“I think it’s been a real benefit for us to be able to — with the approval of the health advisory council — to open our clinics,” Porter said. “We’ve ramped up really slowly, so we’ve tested the waters … and we’re not just jumping into this next week at the start of classes.”

Mitigatino PowerPoint

​Courtesy of Charles Riordan​/THE REVIEW​
All of the following precautions must be done in tandem to maximize mitigation of the coronavirus.

Matt said that the best way to mitigate the risk of the coronavirus is to layer in all of the safety precautions. She believes that everybody should understand why all the precautions are so important.

“Each one of these on their own is not going to address everything, but layered together … we really hope that this is the safety net,” Porter said.

Matt and Porter said that STAR Campus has a lot of additional safety measures in place to keep its students safe.

“One of the things that they put in place at UD … carefully at the beginning is to really keep the density in the buildings low,” Matt said.

Porter created signs informing entrants of the symptoms of coronavirus as well as encouraging social distancing and face coverings. These signs are placed throughout the complex. There are also many hand washing stations, plexiglass shields at the counters and more frequent visits from the custodial staff.

Matt said that there is an infrared thermometer mounted on a moveable stand that is placed right near the entrance. Since all students, staff and visitors have to come in through one entrance, the thermometer is there to monitor their temperatures. There is also a survey that all entrants must fill out. The survey asks them questions about their symptoms, temperatures and potential contact.

“So we have all of that and they also fob in and out of the building,” Matt said. “So if someone comes up positive, we know when they were in the building, where they were and who they may have come in contact with.”

Porter said that depending upon the type of clinic, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be used such as clear plastic face shields.

“It’s clinical settings already so there’s also some additional PPE already in place,” Porter said. “But we’ve taken that baseline and added additional precautions just to ensure we’re doing everything to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

In the event that somebody does test positive, Matt said that the individual would quarantine immediately and the custodial crew would come to disinfect the building. However, Matt said that the time frame and protocol may vary due to “how quickly you can get results back” and whether the person was symptomatic or asymptomatic. Both Matt and Porter reiterated that they would follow both national and university guidelines.

“I really think we’re using the opportunity as much as we can, keeping everybody safe, but also trying to emphasize that we can all learn from being in this situation,” Matt said. “What we really want to do is to impress on the students: ‘Take these precautions. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Social distance. Those things really work to decrease the spread of the virus.’”

Article by ​ERIC MUNSON​ (Associate News Editor)
Published August 30, 2020
Source: UDReview

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With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, deans and department chairs needed to develop protocols to keep their students and staff safe, especially those who will be in-person during the fall semester.

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, deans and department chairs needed to develop protocols to keep their students and staff safe, especially those who will be in-person during the fall semester.

9/14/2020
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  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • 105 The Grn, Room 118 Wolf Hall
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • University of Delaware
  • Phone: 302-831-6977
  • bio-questions@udel.edu