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ROC responds to emergency response criticism (full text)

From the Reopening Committee:

Deciding whether or not to close campus or cancel classes is a complex process involving weighing different options and understanding the benefits and challenges of each option. The initial decision to continue with classes on the Monday after the storm was made based on the fact that campus had power, heat and internet access when much of Salem did not. At the time of that decision, we understood that the power would return by Monday or Tuesday. We did email students on Saturday and Sunday to ask them to let us know if they were injured, if their home had damage that exposed them to the elements, or if they had a medical condition that required power to manage so that we could provide additional support. We had one student contact us as a result of that email and we were able to provide housing for this person.

When it was apparent that the power would take longer than expected to restore, staff reconvened to explore possible options. Student Affairs sent students a Google form to query the interest in being temporarily housed on-campus. Thirteen students responded and we were able to accommodate them. We were grateful that Bon Appetit agreed to allow these students to join at the end of dinner service to have a warm meal but they are not required to do so as they are a private contractor.

To give you an example of how complex emergency response can be, this decision to house off-campus students required that we weigh the risks of having off-campus students come into the residence halls, which have been restricted to on-campus students only as one of our COVID mitigation measures. Congregate living spaces have been shown to be a source of community transmission of the virus, so we needed to consider the impact to the health and safety of our residential students if we were to house off-campus students in the residence halls. In considering housing students in a more open space such as a classroom or gym, we needed to think about the potential risks to students of mingling with other students and the safety concerns involved in providing places for students to sleep that were unlocked and unsupervised. We also were mindful that for counties in Extreme Risk (as Marion County was last week), the maximum capacity for indoor non-instructional gatherings is 6, and we were required to close the locker rooms with shower access.The spaces with shower access we did have available were among identified isolation and quarantine spaces reserved for students with a positive COVID test or exposure. Maintaining a certain number of beds for this purpose is part of our COVID mitigation strategy and is required by the Oregon Health Authority. Taking those dedicated rooms off-line means we risk not being able to manage a COVID outbreak. A power outage during a pandemic had us managing competing priorities.

The university must take seriously the decision to close the campus or cancel classes. We have a responsibility to provide students the learning opportunities that brought them to Willamette and must meet the standards established by accreditors, as well as federal financial aid regulations—both of which require a certain standard of days and hours of class time. There is a limit to how much we can cancel class without later cancelling holiday breaks or study days to compensate.

Emergency response teams make the best decisions they can with the resources and information they have at the time. As any situation evolves new information is gained, priorities shift and new solutions emerge.

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