Message to Luther Community Regarding COVID-19 Preparations

To: Luther College students, parents, faculty, staff, and regents
From: President Jenifer K. Ward
Re: COVID-19 Preparations
Date: March 2, 2020 

I write to you today in regard to Luther College’s planning in response to the emergence and international spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa and the risk currently is low for our area, I want to share the actions and ongoing preparations that Luther College has taken as the situation continues to evolve in global, national, and regional contexts. The on-campus community received email guidance from Corey Landstrom, vice president and dean for student life, on January 29; this communication now includes parents and regents.

Over January Term break, Luther College Health Services worked in consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support three students who were in China or traveled through an airport in China; none of these students were in or traveled through the Wuhan province. One student is still in China and will remain there until the fall 2020 semester following the issuance of a travel restriction by the United States government. The other two students voluntarily self-isolated themselves off campus once they returned to the United States, and several departments at Luther College worked with them to ensure that there was no disruption to their academic program. The students are no longer in isolation and have returned to Luther College.

In advance of the anticipated H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, Luther College formed an Emergency Response Team (ERT) and a Pandemic Preparation Plan. Dean Landstrom leads the ERT, which already included representatives from Campus Safety and Security, Communications, Facilities Services, Information and Technology Services, Residence Life, and Student Life. For the purpose of planning for COVID-19, I broadened the Emergency Response Team to include representatives from Academic Affairs, Dining Services, and Health Services. Other offices may be brought in as needed. The ERT remains in regular contact with the Iowa Department of Public Health and is now meeting weekly in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to adapt and activate the Pandemic Preparation Plan and to ensure that we are prepared as a campus community. If the situation warrants it, the ERT will increase the frequency of its meetings. The ERT will provide updates to students, parents, faculty, staff, and regents, in anticipation of any impacts to classes, co-curricular activities, and residence life.

Links for current information: Please see the following websites for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

General health reminders: There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, and the CDC recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19. Luther College values the well-being of everyone in our community, and we all need to prioritize behaviors that support individual and community wellness. Recommended actions include:

  • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or, if soap and water is not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol)
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Covering your cough or sneeze
  • Frequently cleaning and disinfecting touched objects and surfaces

Students on study-away programs: We currently have 46 students on international programs and 33 students on programs in Chicago, Denver, Rochester, and Washington, DC. No students are currently in China, South Korea, Iran, or Italy. The Center for Global Learning (CGL) has been in contact with directors of our programs in Nottingham, Münster and Malta as we make preparations in response to the spread of COVID-19. Directors, in turn, have been in conversation with program students about general health precautions and potential modifications to plans for future travel. The CGL will continue to monitor developments and be in contact with individuals abroad who may be affected. While no decision has been made to bring students home from abroad at this time, it is important to remember that Luther College puts the safety of its students above all else, and will evaluate CDC guidance daily. The CGL is also compiling a list of all future travel and travelers through the end of the summer in order to anticipate programmatic changes in response to changing conditions.

International students on campus: We are mindful of the impacts of this situation on members of our community who come from specific areas of the world. Many students are understandably experiencing feelings of concern and uncertainty, especially for their families and the situation in their home countries. The Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success and team members from the Student Life Office continue to provide support and reassurance to them. I am grateful for the support and sensitivity that the campus community has extended to students who are feeling particularly impacted and challenged, and I expect it to continue and to strengthen.

Travel, especially over Spring Break: We encourage all students, faculty, and staff who intend to travel to international destinations over Spring Break (March 21-29) to monitor the travel information and alerts provided by the CDC. Please be advised that travelers to countries with widespread or sustained community transmission of COVID-19 may have their return to the United States or to campus impacted by the actions of federal and state governments. We encourage all students and faculty to contact the Student Life Office and the Office of the Dean of the College, respectively, prior to any international travel over Spring Break. We will continue to monitor CDC alerts for domestic travel, as well, and take updates into consideration as we proceed with the regular course of activity for students, faculty, and staff for the remainder of the academic year.

I am grateful for the work of Luther’s ERT and to our teams of professionals across campus who are guiding campus planning and preparations for the COVID-19 outbreak. I am especially grateful for the leadership exhibited by our staff in Health Services, the Student Life Office, the Center for Global Learning, and the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success. Together, we are working to ensure that Luther is prepared. If you have questions, please contact the Student Life Office (563-387-1020; [email protected]) or Health Services (563-387-1045).

Dr. Jenifer K. Ward, President
Luther College