Students at Selkirk College are being told to stay at home if they are experiencing fever, cough or difficulty breathing.
The advice comes in a letter sent out to students Thursday morning by the vice-president of college services in the wake of the spread of coronavirus.
“It is understandable that this is a time of heightened anxiety for everyone. We cannot change what happens with COVID-19, we can only prepare to deal with it,” the letter from Kerry Clarke says. “The most effective way to deal with this virus is to take personal responsibility towards recommended steps that will help lessen the spread.”
The letter comes after a day of rapid global response to the spreading virus, with the U.S. planning to ban air flights from Europe and the cancellation of major public events around the world.
“We formed a COVID-19 task force … and we’re meeting twice a week or so, and discussing what’s coming around with the guidance from the provincial health officer, and that’s what we are following,” Clarke told the Castlegar News.
There were 46 confirmed cases of COVID-19, or coronavirus, in British Columbia as of March 11. There have been no cases of confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection in the student body, Clarke says.
About 2,700 students attend the college full-time. For the most part, academic classes end in early April.
Besides the standard measures — like washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and covering your mouth when coughing — the college wants students who begin to feel cold or flu-like symptoms to take measures to stop spreading the infection.
“We understand that this is a very busy time in the winter semester where students need to be on the top of their workload,” the letter continues. “That said, one way to stop the spread of this virus is to not come to class or common areas if you have associated symptoms that include fever, cough or having a hard time breathing.”
The letter continues that college instructors “are aware of potential disruption to a student’s semester should they take these precautions and will work with you to ensure missed class time does not result in missed assignments/tests.”
Abundance of caution
The college has added an extra custodial shift during the day to maintain sanitary measures on door knobs, counter-tops, computer keyboards and other “areas of common touch,” Clarke says.
“We can’t stop COVID-19, all we can do is plan to deal with it,” he says. “And it is such a fluid situation. And what I told members of the planning committee was, ‘what I tell you today for advice could be very different tomorrow.’”
The college encourages students to do their part as well.
“With notable transmission of the virus still minimal in our region, we are taking a cautious approach to social distancing as we maintain our daily routines at Selkirk College,” says the letter.
Among those measures are encouraging staff to avoid unnecessary physical contact, like handshaking; promoting hand washing and staying at home if you have symptoms.
However, there are no plans at the moment to cancel classes or gatherings like field trips, says Clarke, though the idea has been considered.
“It’s a question that comes up as part of a worse-case scenario, we’d be idiots not to think about it,” he says. “But it would be a worst-case scenario. But I would at this point consider it very unlikely, as many of our courses are lab-based. You can’t run a carpentry course remotely, it doesn’t makes sense.
“So those are some of the challenges we’re looking at and what we call the ‘what-if’ scenario planning.”
Planned field trips will continue as scheduled, according to the letter.
Community, institution and group gatherings are being cancelled around the world, including suspension of classes in Washington State, south of the border.