Campus Health

Institute increases travel restrictions, advises overpacking

Director Lawrence shares pandemic planning protocols amid virus outbreak worldwide

[Update, March 7]: Rensselaer activated trigger level one of the University Pandemic Planning Protocols. More information can be found here.

[Update, March 6]: President of the Union Caitlin Kennedy said in an email to club officers that the Union is reviewing all "Institute sponsored campus/public events" scheduled for March and April due to the coronavirus, adding that events may be rescheduled or canceled due to the "health risks of public gatherings." More information about the email can be found here.

Students were asked to overpack for Spring Break as a “precautionary step” due to the coronavirus outbreak in an email from Vice President for Student Life Peter Konwerski and Provost Prabhat Hajela on Thursday.

In the email, Konwerski and Hajela said students would face no “detrimental impact” if classes were to be suspended. They also referred students to emails sent by Executive Director for Health and Wellness Leslie Lawrence for travel requirements and guidelines.

“Textbooks, class notes, faculty and classmate contact information, passwords, laptop computers, and other devices,” are explicitly recommended by Konwerski and Hajela as items students should take home over Spring Break in order to “continue … studies at a distance,” should a forced closure of Rensselaer prevent students from retrieving them.

If classes at RPI are interrupted, Konwerski and Hajela say the Institute “will continue instruction using online resources and other tools.”

A similar statement was made by Sage Colleges President Christopher Ames on Wednesday, asking Sage students to take class necessities with them when they leave campus.

The Institute’s travel restrictions due to coronavirus have been updated several times since Lawrence’s first email about the outbreak on January 22.

As of Lawrence’s latest email, sent Thursday, the Institute recommends against travel outside North America, travel on cruise ships, or going to meetings with more than 50 attendees.

Additionally, students coming back from travel in any country outside North America or on a cruise must “contact the Student Health Center.” This was not elaborated on in the latest email, but the Health Center’s phone number and email address were provided.

Those coming back from China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea “will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days” upon their return, and must also contact the Health Center.

These five countries are categorized by the CDC under “Warning Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel,” with the exception of Japan, which is designated “Alert Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions.”

In the Thursday email, in reference to the coronavirus, Lawrence says there are “no confirmed or suspected cases on campus” and that the Institute is working “to minimize the spread of viruses throughout campus should they arrive.”

Included in Lawrence’s email was a link to RPI’s “baseline” University Pandemic Planning Protocols, part of the Institute’s Pandemic Illness Plan.

The plan has two “trigger levels” depending on the proximity of COVID-19 to RPI. (COVID-19 refers to the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus.)

The first level activates in the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case within a 25-mile radius of either RPI campus (Troy or Hartford). At this level, classes will continue, but “all public events with 50 or more attendees, with outside participation,” will be canceled.

In recent weeks, events hosted by multiple multicultural clubs on campus were postponed or restricted to RPI students. These regulatory actions mimicked trigger level one protocols, but there were no confirmed cases of the disease in New York at the time.

Trigger level two activates in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the RPI community and will prompt a declaration of an Institute State of Emergency from President Shirley Ann Jackson.

All in-person instruction would be canceled for at least one month under this level, and all non-critical parts of campus would be shut down. Additionally, Academy Hall will be designated an “Auxiliary Clinic.”

The protocol references “plans to move people quickly” and “housing contingencies,” but does not elaborate on what those plans or contingencies are, or their impact on the campus community.

There is no description of how or when the second trigger level would be lifted. It’s stated that RPI “will follow the guidance of the CDC, NYS Health Department, and the Rensselaer County Health Department.”

It’s noted that the protocols themselves are subject to modification as needed.