March 3, 2020 9:45 AM
John Harshbarger and Michael Rainaldi

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

The dynamics surrounding the global spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are changing quickly. Health officials are learning more about the virus every day, even as the international spread of the virus brings related news closer to home, raising questions about international programs, travel during spring break, and campus healthcare best practices.

As ever, in the face of this ongoing and fluid public health situation, Oberlin prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of all of our community members. Oberlin officials are in regular contact with local health officials at Lorain County Public Health and are monitoring the communications from the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is important to note that there still are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio.

International study and travel

On Sunday night, the CDC recommended that all higher education institutions “consider asking students participating in study abroad programs to return to the United States.” This statement was written as guidance for educational institutions and study abroad organizations. We take this guidance seriously and are continuing to work with all of our study abroad partner organizations around the world to evaluate such decisions on a case-by-case basis. It is helpful that study abroad students are supported on the ground by trained and dedicated professional staff, administrators, and faculty who work to assure their health, safety, and wellbeing.

Educational institutions and study abroad organizations frequently consult health and safety guidance provided by local authorities, regional and national governments, as well as the U.S. Department of State and the CDC. When both the State Department and CDC raised their Travel Advisories for South Korea and Italy to Level 3 (avoid non-essential travel) many study abroad programs in those countries cancelled their spring semesters. In turn, most of the Oberlin students participating in those cancelled programs will be returning to the U.S. Oberlin now has 167 students studying away this semester (both international and domestic). As of March 3, all of Oberlin's remaining study abroad partners have confirmed that they will continue running their programs for the spring semester.

Spring break travel

Currently, health officials advise that there is no cause for concern when traveling domestically. However, please remember that the situation is changing quickly and the CDC is constantly monitoring the spread of COVID-19 across the country and re-evaluating its recommendations accordingly. Local officials say that it is possible that the CDC could clamp down on travel within the U.S. on short notice.

Sporting events

Oberlin is monitoring guidance from the NCAA, which is warning that some events could be canceled to protect athletes. The college also is discussing how best to sanitize buses and other transportation that athletes utilize. 

The NCAA has issued the following statement indicating that it too is evaluating the evolving situation:

“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes. Precautions should include canceling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events.”

Precautions on campus

Please remember it is far more likely that college students, and all Ohioans, will contract seasonal flu than the coronavirus. 

As a reminder, everyone can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and public health professionals recommend that we:

  • wash our hands often with soap and water; if that is not possible, use hand sanitizer
  • cover our mouth and nose with our sleeve or a tissue when we sneeze or cough
  • avoid close contact (touching or shaking hands) with people who are sick
  • avoid touching our mouth, nose, and eyes
  • stay home when we are sick

The college has provided hand sanitizer stations in residential areas and public spaces throughout campus.

Personal-use hand sanitizers for students and employees will be made available through student health and other locations on campus.

Signs have been posted reminding people to wash their hands and practice good hygiene.

The college also is increasing the frequency of services to clean and disinfect high-use areas. Disinfectant wipes are available to clean common-use items such as public computers, desktops, and pianos and other instruments.

Remember how COVID-19 is spread

The COVID-19 virus is spread primarily through respiration, which means that in order to become infected, people generally must be within six feet of someone who is coughing or sneezing. Symptoms of the coronavirus appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Reported cases have ranged from mild illness (similar to a common cold) to severe pneumonia that requires hospitalization.

Some members of our community have chosen to wear masks in public which, while not necessary, is completely acceptable. If you see someone wearing a mask, please do not be alarmed.

One of the biggest challenges in instances of a public health concern is to take prudent steps while not stereotyping individuals. Please remember to be considerate to others as we seek to address concerns about this disease.

For more information, please see our coronavirus FAQ page and the archive of previous messages on this topic that have been sent to the community. To submit a question, please send email to Health.Info@oberlin.edu.

The college will send additional updates as the situation develops.

Sincerely,

John Harshbarger
Director, Student Health and Counseling Services

Michael Rainaldi
Director of International Programs