Officials with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and area schools are taking steps to ensure the safety of students and staff, but there are no immediate plans to close schools or go to online only teaching.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and UAMS have all cancelled in-person classes. UA-Fayetteville has cancelled in-person classes though the end of the spring semester, though housing, dining and other university operations and services will continue to be open. UALR moved classes online until further notice and all activities were cancelled until April 30.
“In light of recent developments relating to the coronavirus, which causes the flu-like illness COVID-19, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is working to prepare the campus community for any student, faculty, or staff accommodations that may be necessary. Health and safety continue to be our top priorities,” the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith posted on its website under campus life. The website will be updated with any changes.
Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor, said the university has monitored the COVID-19 situation for several weeks and working on a plan with the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), the Arkansas Department of Health, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
“We are lucky with have UAMS in our system as guidance, and we have been looking closely at the best methods for social distancing,” Riley said.
Social distancing is a term applied to certain actions that are taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. At this time, no members of the UAFS community have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and there is no evidence of exposure on the campus.
“University leaders are communicating daily to develop and refine short- and long-term contingency plans and to respond rapidly to emerging issues,” the website states.
The university has worked in recent days to make sure technology is in place and prepared for classes to turn to an on-line only medium if the need should arise, Riley said. She did say that following a Thursday (March 12) conference call, the Lonestar Conference, Division II, to which UAFS belongs, made the decision to cancel all competitions until March 30.
“I don’t know if it will get better. It may be that we cancel the entire remainder of the season. With the NCAA canceling the tournament, it would be irresponsible to have our students continue to play and risk being injured when there is no chance of winning a championship or professional scouts being able to see them,” Riley said.
Each school in the conference was left to decide if they would continuing practicing or training. Riley said student athletes at UAFS would not.
“These really are hardworking students. I’m not going to jeopardize them being able to graduate,” she said.
The university will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and make decisions about possibly closing in-person classes later. In the event that does happen, student workers will continue to work though their jobs may change some as well.
“We have gotten guidance from the Department of Education. And all students on federal work study will continue to get paid as long as they are capable of submitting hours. They may have to work remotely,” she said.
Hourly employees will also continue to be paid, Riley said.
“We think it is very important to both our employees and their families and to the local economy that they be able to continue to be paid and pay their bills and continue their normal spending patterns,” she said.
University personnel are working to stop the spread of any virus, including COVID-19 and the flu by cleaning with antivirus disinfectants and heavy filtration systems.
“We are cleaning any high-touch surfaces every 30 minutes. As you would imagine, that is increasing the workload for many. But everyone is taking it in stride,” Riley said.
FORT SMITH, VAN BUREN SCHOOLS
Fort Smith and Van Buren schools also are not suspending classes. Fort Smith Public Schools issued a safety guideline for COVID-19 Thursday (March 12).
“Student and staff safety is of primary importance in Fort Smith Public Schools. Several weeks ago, the district’s COVID-19 Response Team was organized to monitor efforts within our state to contain the spread of COVID-19, as well as to share guidance and implement instructions provided from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), and the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Yesterday’s announcement of the first confirmed case in Arkansas provides an important opportunity to share additional information to help you prepare for the coming weeks,” the guideline states.
Because state leaders have recommended reevaluating non-essential travel, FSPS has cancelled all out-of-state student trips for the 2019-2020 school year and no new out-of-state student travel will be scheduled for the remainder of the school year, according to the guidelines.
“We ask that sponsors of groups that had planned out-of-state travel make all attempts possible to secure refunds on behalf of students. To the extent that students’ travel expenses are refunded by vendors, any applicable refunds will be passed on to students. We will continue to evaluate school-sponsored student travel plans for destinations within Arkansas and follow guidance from state and local health officials as it is developed and disseminated,” it states.
In an effort to reduce the spread of germs throughout the flu season FSPS facilities staff are using Geneon foggers and a chemical called Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) to disinfect classrooms and offices throughout the district, the district announced earlier this winter.
“HOCI is a weak acid that forms when chlorine dissolves in water. HOCI is used in hospitals and several government facilities to help fight different viruses. The health department verifies that HOCI aids in the removal of influenza and certain bacteria, and that it is safe to use where children are present,” a news release said.
The district has one fogger in each of the secondary schools. These are used on a daily rotation from section to section of each school. At the elementary schools, there are two district teams that go out to fog 10 schools in one week and fog the remaining nine schools the very next week. These rotations began in late January and will continue until flu season is over.
Custodians also use HDQ, which is a hospital grade disinfectant, virucide, and fungicide. Each door knob, paper towel dispenser, drinking fountain, and countertop is being wiped down with HDQ at different times throughout the day.