Taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19

March 17, 2020

Tori Tragis

Dear UAF community,

Yesterday’s guidance from President Johnsen (PDF) provided more clarity and direction on how Universities across the system will continue to take precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I know many of you have been wondering about campus events, especially commencement. UAF’s commencement ceremony on May 2, and all related commencement events are now canceled. There is an ongoing conversation about waiving or reducing the graduation fee that students have already paid. Since the fee goes primarily to activities that are not associated with the commencement exercises, some part of it may remain in place. More to come on this question. The president also said yesterday that each university would be developing alternative ways to celebrate. The commencement committee will begin work on this today.

The CDC is now recommending we do not hold events, meetings or gatherings with more than 10 people. This replaces the previous guidance of 25 people. I know the changing guidance can be frustrating, but it underscores just how quickly things are changing and why it is important to stay informed. Please follow this guidance. I realize there are current planning efforts under way for events in June, July and August. While we don’t have an end date to the cancellations, it would be prudent to continue planning for these events with the understanding that contingencies for cancellation or transition to virtual formats should be prepared. Please work from home if you can and whether you are on campus in your office, or at the grocery store, do your best to keep a safe distance of 6 ft between you and another person. 

All classes will resume March 23 via alternative delivery methods, with a very few exceptions. Faculty will be communicating with students this week on what those methods will be and how students can access them. We are actively working on the many questions about how Internet can be accessed by faculty, staff and students with limited bandwidth. Please be sure to let your supervisor (if faculty or staff) or instructor (if student) know if your off-campus internet will be a barrier to accessing your course.

In addition to academics, UAF conducts research and field work. We are in close communications with agency partners and other universities as we determine how to go forward with our upcoming field season and other research activities. Vice Chancellor Hinzman is working with Institute Directors and researchers on a research continuity plan to address the many questions regarding research. We know this impacts not only our campus community but visiting researchers and partners from around the globe. 

HR has provided new guidance on leave codes . Supervisors, please be sure to communicate with your employees how to track and code work hours appropriately. There will be guidance from statewide HR on the appropriate codes to use for administrative leave caused by the current coronavirus conditions.

On another note, I have received many questions about the difference between the terms “self-quarantine” and “self-isolation”. Both words are being used publicly in similar ways but they mean different things. The term "self-quarantine" is used when healthy people stay away from work. Across UA, we have used self-quarantine to mean that people who have traveled outside of Alaska need to stay away from work for 14 days. This has also been referred to in messages from President Johnsen as “stay home and self-observe” for 14 days. Individuals in self-quarantine should work with their supervisors to work from home or be placed on administrative leave. "Self-isolation" is the term used to describe the process of separating (isolating) ill individuals. Self-isolation is an activity that is normally overseen by health professionals and has very specific meaning to CDC and other health organizations.

I will continue to communicate by direct email and in Cornerstone. The Chancellors are working with the system office on UA wide communications. So as a matter of sequencing of communications, President Johnsen sends systemwide updates first, then Chancellors updates follow-up systemwide guidance specific to our University. That being said, please do not let that cadence be a barrier to your questions. If you have questions, reach out. We will have an open forum at 1 pm today to discuss UA and UAF responses to the coronavirus and to answer as many questions as possible. Additionally, Fire Chief Doug Schrage is our incident management team lead and will send regular updates in Cornerstone.

This is a trying time in our history. At no other time has it been more important to come together (virtually) as a community. Please keep in mind there are many other external pressures affecting our students, faculty and staff. Look out for one another, take the time to check in on someone who may be feeling alone or isolated and most importantly take care of yourself and others.

— Dan White, chancellor