Claremont Colleges ramp up coronavirus prep as outbreak intensifies in US

A person (who is not pictured above the elbows) washes their hands with foamy soap over a sink with running water.
Administrators from all colleges said individual health and sanitization are top priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Lily Lucas SC ’22 had her spring break all planned — the sophomore was set to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Laspa Center’s Leadership Immersion Trek

But now, Lucas has been left scrambling. Scripps College canceled the program Thursday, along with all other school-sponsored break trips, for fear of issues related to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“I think I might end up staying on campus for break, which is just kinda disappointing and frustrating since I was so looking forward to the D.C. trip,” Lucas said via message.

The trip cancellations are just the start of preparations 5C administrators are making as they brace for the impacts of the international outbreak. The institutions have begun crafting significant contingency plans in case the disease affects classes, residential life, dining and other campus functions.

Senior leadership from each college have formed a Coronavirus Response Group, which is conducting daily calls to respond to the evolving outbreak, a statement from The Claremont Colleges Services released Friday said.

The colleges  are preparing for a scenario in which in-person classes are canceled and need to be taught remotely instead, the statement said.

Claremont McKenna College  President Hiram Chodosh recommended that students download the video conferencing software Zoom to “familiarize themselves with its features.”

The schools are also making plans to support residential life in the event that individual students or entire campuses are forced into quarantine or isolation.

CMC has identified “suitable housing” to quarantine or isolate individual students currently living in on-campus housing, according to Chodosh. Pomona College has also developed a plan to isolate “ill individuals” and is preparing for the possibility that “social distancing” will become necessary,” administrators said in an email Thursday.

The schools are working with dining services providers to ensure meal service can continue if dining halls need to be closed, according to the TCCS statement. They’re also preparing for a higher-than-normal number of students to remain on campus during spring break, and are ensuring that sufficient health, campus safety and dining services remain available.

Pomona’s Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said at an ASPC meeting Thursday that senior college leadership is meeting regularly about the situation. The college is monitoring the situation, she said, and will make further announcements as appropriate and necessary.

Pomona also has plans in case students need to be quarantined, and is discussing contingencies for the fall in case study abroad programs are canceled, Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg added that Student Health Services is not currently equipped to conduct coronavirus tests, but pinned the blame on federal officials responsible for sending out the tests. 

CMC also has an “inventory of emergency supplies,” Chodosh said.

Harvey Mudd College has also begun planning to procure “additional food and other resources,” President Maria Klawe said. 

She added that the college is “exploring how to ensure adequate staff is available to support our students.”

Pomona’s administrators also mentioned the possibility of “delivery of food outside of dining halls to avoid large assemblies.” The college always has three weeks’ of food on hand, according to Eisenberg.

Administrators said individual health and sanitization are top priorities — facilities crews have increased their regular cleaning procedures to better sanitize campus buildings.

CMC is installing sinks at Collins Dining Hall entrances, Chodosh said, so visitors can wash their hands before and after meals.

The schools are also reevaluating plans for large events throughout the remainder of the semester, though Klawe said Harvey Mudd does not anticipate changes at this time.

Students and staff should stay home and avoid contact with others if they feel sick, the presidents said. They emphasized that there are currently no known cases of coronavirus within Claremont or the 7Cs.

A sign that says "STOP: Please Help Us Prevent the Spread of Germs by Washing and Sanitizing Your Hands!" is displayed on a glass door next to another sign that says "CAUTION: Automatic Door, Activate switch to operate."
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hoch at Harvey Mudd put up signs recently urging students to wash and sanitize their hands. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

The measures come as Los Angeles County declared a local health emergency Wednesday morning. Eleven cases of coronavirus have been reported within the county, the public health department said Thursday. 

With spring break coming up soon, the colleges are also beginning to limit institution-sponsored travel and are discouraging students from leaving the country.

Pomona announced Tuesday it will not sponsor or reimburse travel to countries at a level two or higher federal travel advisory for coronavirus, according to a community update from administrators. That includes summer internships, research projects or academic programs that students may be planning abroad.

The CDC has designated Japan under a level two advisory. China, Iran, Italy and South Korea are under level three advisories.

Pomona will only sponsor or reimburse air travel fees for faculty and staff if the travel is “deemed essential.” The college’s current aim is to “curtail travel while allowing core activities of the College to continue,” the update said. 

Victoria Thai PO ’22 was planning to travel to Seoul, South Korea over the break to visit her cousin. 

“We were cautious about going but still deciding to until mid-February, when the outbreaks in South Korea got worse,” she said via message.

By the time the CDC put South Korea on a level three advisory Feb. 24, Thai knew the trip was off.

“It’s wild and kind of scary,” she said.

Scripps College President Lara Tiedens urged students, faculty and staff to “exercise caution about their travel choices during spring break and beyond” in an email sent to the student body Monday.

Klawe asked students to re-examine spring break travel plans, and to “keep in mind that any international travel carries a risk that you might be quarantined or prevented from returning to the U.S.” 

Mike Segawa, Pitzer College’s vice president for student affairs, strongly discouraged students from traveling internationally during spring break in a Monday letter, citing “uncertainty about your ability to return to the US at the conclusion of your trip.”

Pomona is anticipating more students than usual will stay on campus for spring break and is increasing resources for dining and residence halls. A residence life survey distributed on Tuesday asked students to share their plans for the break.

In the latest in a cascade of study abroad cancellations, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver announced in an email Wednesday that Pitzer has suspended its spring study abroad program in Nepal, after shutting down its Parma, Italy program last week.

Justin Sleppy PZ ’21, who was part of the Nepal program, said he and six other students are flying to their homes Friday, where they will be self-quarantined for two weeks.

Sleppy noted that while he was leaving Nepal, which had one confirmed coronavirus case as of Thursday, he would be flying into the state of Washington, which had 70, before continuing to his home in Alaska.

“There’s some irony that we’re being flown back to places that already have it,” he said. 

Pitzer has not made decisions about its summer and fall study abroad programs, but is “closely monitoring” programs’ viability. Oliver asked students to “understand that we may need to alter plans depending on the circumstances.”

Several Claremont-Mudd-Scripps games have also been canceled, CMS announced on its website Thursday, as some visiting schools are canceling their travel plans. Multiple P-P games have also been canceled. 

This story was last updated March 6, 2020 at 2:57 p.m.

This story was updated March 5, 2020 at 11:26 p.m.

This story was updated March 4, 2020 at 8:45 p.m.

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