KEARNEY — It’s “business as usual” at the University of Nebraska in Kearney, but university officials are meeting daily to be prepped and ready for any changes.
“It’s so hour by hour that it’s hard to plan for everything,” said Todd Gottula, UNK spokesperson. “We don’t know the answers to everything, but we’re doing the best that we can just to plan and be prepared.”
Gottula said that the university’s emergency operations advisory group is meeting daily in response to the virus, which Wednesday was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The advisory group includes leaders from residence life, communications, student health, administration, business and finance, public safety and facilities.
“The health and well-being of our community is our primary concern,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said in a statement Wednesday.
As of this morning, no UNK events, including classes, have been canceled or postponed. Campus tours for prospective students are still happening. A decision to close campus likely would come from NU leadership, Gottula said.
As the virus spreads — this morning Nebraska was up to 10 total reported cases — and circumstances change, UNK is aiming to stay on top of the developments.
UNK has stepped up “deep cleaning” in its high-traffic areas of campus, such as the library, athletics facilities and fine arts building.
Friday afternoon, campus officials had an open forum for students, faculty and staff, giving the groups an update on the situation and creating an opportunity for those in attendance to ask questions.
Earlier this week, UNK sent a letter to professors asking them to start thinking of ways to carry on with their classes online.
Individual departments, Gottula added, also have had meetings related to the virus and contingency plans. The departments have been asked to submit “continuity plans,” which include steps such as outlining essential personnel.
Should campus events begin to be canceled or rescheduled, UNK will set up a section of its website to list those changes. The information will be housed alongside other information about the coronavirus at unk.edu/coronavirus.
“We know the decisions made at the university level have a great potential to impact the community, the economy and everything on every side of that so we don’t take those decisions lightly,” Gottula said of canceling or rescheduling events.
“I think it’s important to use common sense and keep a calm demeanor through all of this. That doesn’t downplay the significance of the situation that we’re all dealing with, but it doesn’t do anybody any good to panic and over exaggerate things,” he later added.
UNK also is looking ahead toward spring break, March 22-29.
“No formal restrictions have been placed on spring break travel by students, faculty or staff,” Kristensen wrote Wednesday. “But you should carefully consider whether your spring break travel plans put you at risk. We are discouraging any international travel you have planned for spring break. The health risk is too great. You may also find yourself unable to leave certain countries and return to the U.S.”
Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump announced that all travel between the U.S. and Europe is suspended for 30 days. The decision did not apply to travel to the United Kingdom.
The university last week announced that a spring study abroad program to the Czech Republic, set to leave Monday, had been canceled. The decision involved 11 students and one faculty member.
Kristensen, in his letter, discouraged travel anywhere in the U.S. where coronavirus cases have been reported. University of Nebraska policy also, as of press time, restricts student, faculty and staff travel to mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran because of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel advisories.
“We encourage you to consider staying close to home, while also practicing good hygiene that includes washing your hands and avoiding close contact with sick people,” Kristensen said.
Should anyone choose to travel, UNK will be asking students, faculty and staff to communicate where they plan to go through a form on the student health page of the UNK website.
“It helps us communicate with students if there’s changing situations wherever they’re traveling to that they may not be aware about,” Gottula said.