Monday, April 6, 2020

Susan Koch: A look at the COVID-19 response at UIS

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on April 4, 2020. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting unprecedented challenges around the world. With the number of cases accelerating across Illinois and the U.S., higher education institutions, including the University of Illinois Springfield, are making proactive decisions almost daily -- prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors while at the same time continuing to deliver on the educational mission of the university.

How does a university prepare for such an exceptional situation? What assets are most important for successfully navigating such an emergency? How are priorities determined and decisions made?
Today’s UIS Perspectives provides a brief window into the UIS response.

As is the case with any emergency, the first critical asset is preparedness. Long before the first case of COVID-19 disease was reported in December 2019, UIS had a well-developed Emergency Response Plan. A public health epidemic is one of 15 primary hazards identified in the plan, which provides operational guidance and recognizes responsibilities and duties to be assumed in order to protect the health and safety of members of the university community and continue essential operations.

By early February, both the University of Illinois System and UIS had activated another critical asset ... people -- creating COVID-19 response teams that include decision-makers as well as communications and public health experts who have the knowledge and experience to help guide the ongoing response. With the leadership of Associate Chancellor Kelsea Gurski, UIS quickly developed a communications plan and created a COVID-19 website – an important platform to deploy messages, provide trusted information and respond to questions and concerns.

As everyone now knows, the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious and is spread mainly between people who are in close contact with each other and via frequently touched surfaces. Social distancing is an essential strategy to limit spread of the disease. Given the social distancing imperative, UIS made the decision in early March to migrate all courses from face-to-face instruction to remote teaching for the remainder of the Spring semester.

According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Clarice Ford, one asset that has served students well during this challenging time is trust. “We rely on the people we trust to get things done,” she says, “and during this uncertain time students have looked to those they trust -- including Student Affairs staff -- to guide them through.” Like many others,I’ve been social distancing and working often from home – using Zoom, email and phone to continue work with colleagues. But as I turned off 11th Street a few days ago for my daily swing through campus, I heard the unmistakable sound of a bat against a ball – something I thought I wouldn’t hear for the rest of this year since spring sports have been suspended. Pulling into the baseball complex, I found two UIS student-athletes, members of the Prairie Stars baseball team, each in a separate batting cage, hitting balls. “Online classes are going fine,“one of them told me in answer to my question. “We’re going to get through this and we’re going to be back next season – better than ever.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is most certainly presenting unprecedented challenges. But I’m proud to say we’re deploying our assets effectively and, to quote two resilient young members of the UIS community, “We’re going to get through this and we’re going to be back next season – better than ever.”

Read the entire column online.