Faculty/Staff Communications

Pandemic Mitigation Steps at IU Bloomington

August 17, 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

With a week to go until the beginning of the semester, I write to thank everyone on the campus for the extraordinary work that getting to this fall has entailed. You and our students have been receiving ongoing information about COVID mitigation every Friday by email for the past month, at the fall2020.iu.edu website, and through a series of webinars that have spanned the summer. Since the beginning, our focus has been on meeting the unique challenges presented by bringing students from across the country and around the world to campus during a global pandemic.   

Yet I suspect that as we approach the start of classes, it would be helpful to pull all this information together. So today, I write to give an overview of the public health efforts our university and campus have launched since May. 

You can think of these public health efforts as a series of concentric protective circles, all of which contribute to our ability to have classes and participate in our research this fall. None is sufficient alone, and all are necessary:

  1. The broad and responsive public health regulations that Indiana University, the city of Bloomington, Monroe County, and the State of Indiana have adopted over the summer;
  2. The personal commitments we have made as members of the IU community through the Community Responsibility Acknowledgement and the Student Commitment Form to follow a series of important personal public health steps;
  3. The ongoing acquisition of masks, PPE, and other supplies in sufficient quantities to get us through the semester and to prepare for next semester;
  4. The transformation of our physical space, both through rearranging and lowering the density of classrooms and residence halls and through increased use of outdoor spaces, to ensure physical distancing, appropriate cleaning and ventilation, and provision of sanitation supplies and masks;
  5. The continued lowered density of the campus;
  6. A public health campaign that involves, among other things, pervasive social media and signage, and focused work with higher-risk populations;
  7. The comprehensive testing regime that IU has adopted, which includes pre-arrival, arrival, surveillance, and symptomatic testing;
  8. Investment in a robust contact-tracing process that will augment that of the state and the county;
  9. The plans to provide for quarantine and isolation for our on-campus residential community, and to ensure that all of our faculty, staff, and students, wherever they live, have access to medical monitoring and care if they need it;
  10. A multidisciplinary approach to following our progress and that of the virus, and to determine if, whether, and how to contract our presence on campus; the creation of a dashboard, in progress, to keep our community informed; and
  11. A change in the academic-year calendar to avoid the flu season, and a new requirement that our community members get a flu vaccine.

In all of this, we have continued to be supported by the Hess Committee, which has focused on answering a great many programmatic questions. As we have put that committee’s recommendations into place, and continued to refine and augment the recommendations with updated public health information, we have been both led and supported by an extraordinarily dedicated and talented IU Medical Response Team: 

  • Cole Beeler, an infectious disease doctor, who is responsible for IU’s symptomatic testing and our overall metric tracking and analysis;
  • Adrian Gardner, also in infectious disease and former director of IU’s AMPATH program in Kenya, who has been leading our contact-tracing preparedness;
  • Aaron Carroll, a health investigator and pediatrician, who has been leading our arrival and surveillance testing and health communications efforts; and
  • Lana Dbiebo, an infectious disease specialist, who has been reviewing cases to identify potential issues and prevent outbreaks.

The Medical Response Team is in turn supported on this campus by the COVID-19 Response Unit, headed by my Chief of Staff, Catherine Dyar, and Assistant Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, Kirk White. The team includes many members of Environmental Health and Safety, the Residence Halls, Student Affairs, and IU Communications, as well as other operational offices as needed.

Let me outline each of these efforts:

A. Public Health Regulations, Personal Commitments, and Enforcement:

  1. Indiana University’s public health requirements include wearing a mask within all campus buildings, on campus transportation, and outside when physical distancing cannot be maintained; physical distancing of six feet in all directions at all times possible; handwashing and other personal hygiene practices; taking your temperature every morning before you come to campus; avoiding others when you are exhibiting any sign of illness, testing when needed or required; and cooperating with contact tracing and medical advice on quarantine and isolation. These requirements are the basics needed from every member of our community—faculty, staff, and students—and we have each pledged to adhere to them as part of the Community Responsibility Acknowledgement and the Student Responsibility Form as a condition of returning to campus. We expect that all members of our community with meet these requirements. Nevertheless, they are also enforced through UA-21 Sanctions for Noncompliance with COVID-19 Health and Safety Directions (faculty and staff) and STU-02, (parallel policy for students). Refusal to follow these requirements will result in immediate exclusion from the campus.  
  2. The city of Bloomington, Monroe County, and the State of Indiana also have adopted regulations that require masks and physical distancing. In addition, the county has adopted regulations that:
    • Limit the size of social gatherings in public residences and that apply explicitly to fraternity and sorority houses. These require that any such gatherings must include physical distancing and masks. IUPD and Bloomington Police Department have been enforcing this limitation.
    • Limit bars, nightclubs, and restaurants to table-top seating, with tables physically distanced and no more than 10 patrons at each.

I, Dave O’Guinn, our Vice Provost for Student Affairs, and many members of his team, Kirk White for IU governmental relations, and the Medical Response Team have been working with the Mayor, the County Commissioners and the County Health Department, and IU Health Bloomington on a weekly basis all summer. I am tremendously grateful for the ongoing collegiality, cooperation and collaboration of all of our community partners.

B. IU PPE and Supplies and Physical Spaces

  1. Through the heroic efforts of IU Purchasing’s Baris Kiyar, Associate Vice President for Procurement Services, and his team, we have obtained adequate stores of PPE and other COVID-related materials to protect the campus community. IU Research has worked with research operations on the campus to ensure the specific needs of our research community are met.
  2. In addition, Protect IUtested masks from multiple companies and obtained masks with high filtration rates and comfort levels for all IU students, faculty, and staff that were mailed in the last several weeks.
  3. IU Residential Programs and Services has limited residence hall rooms to no more than two students, if the students know each other and have chosen to be roommates; restricted guests to the residence halls; and restricted and modified the use of the facilities in compliance with the Hess Committee recommendations. Move-in has been carefully managed to ensure physical distancing during that period.
    Executive Director of RPS Luke Leftwich and a phenomenal team have mounted an incredible operations effort, manually assigning students to their rooms, and an outstanding communications effort for parents and students that they led with Dr. Carroll.  
  1. IU Dining has modified its dining procedures to adhere to the Hess Committee’s recommendations; worked with local delivery services; and set up grab-and-go dining for on-campus communities.
  2. The IU Registrar, Associate Vice Provost Mark McConahay, and his team have done amazing work in evaluating and bringing forward all possible campus teaching spaces for the fall. To comply with physical distancing requirements, we eliminated 60-70 % of all seating in classrooms, which prevented us from using many spaces due to their size. Mark and his team managed to fit all of our classes that will be offered in person or in hybrid form into our remaining footprint, with our campus auxiliaries contributing every space that they could. (And Stacy Morrone and the Teaching and Learning Spaces group at UITS deserve a letter of their own.)
  3. IU Facilities Operations has addressed every teaching space, marking seats that may be used and eliminating or roping off seats that should not be used and placing signage throughout the campus. It is also providing supplies in each teaching space for all of us to clean our spaces as we use them; placed sanitizer machines and will place mask dispensers in every major classroom building; and evaluated the HVAC in all teaching and work spaces, increasing the filter changes. Vice President Tom Morrison described most of these efforts in a webinar here and has been evaluating and implementing additional precautions all summer.
  4. Finally, IU Bloomington, through the work of Doug Booher at IU Events and his staff, is activating all of the outdoor spaces on this beautiful campus for use for programming. I will write in a few weeks about the amazing efforts to ensure we have a safe and lively campus this fall.

C. Lowered Density, Public Health Campaign, Higher Risk Populations

  1. The Return to Campus Guide includes a plan for a phased return to campus. Nevertheless, we continue to expect everyone who can to work from home; to restrict visitors to campus and travel; and to restrict events. All of these steps are designed to keep the density on campus low to facilitate physical distancing.

  2. IU Studios has launched, in collaboration with all the academic and support units on campus, a public health campaign aimed at getting our community to understand and view as second nature the personal public health requirements we all must follow. This campaign was developed with research involving student focus groups and with faculty expertise in public health messaging. It involves the short emails you and the students are receiving every Friday; the iu.edu website; signage development; and a coordinated social media campaign.
  3. IU has established a Pandemic Health Disparities Fund to address the particular needs of Black and Latinx communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and to support those communities through targeted interventions and services.
  4. The Division of Student Affairs and the Monroe County Health Department have worked together to provide information, recommendations, and guidance for fraternities and sororities. Vice Provost Dave O’Guinn, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kathy Adams Reister, and Assistant Dean for Sorority and Fraternity Life Lesley Fasone, in particular, have worked incredibly hard with the housed organizations, the student leadership, and the house corporations to ensure that the houses understand the severe limits on social gatherings and the health changes that they must make to keep their members safe. In addition, Dr. Carroll and members of the division, and representatives of the Monroe County Health department, have met multiple times with these groups.

D. Ongoing Testing, Contact Tracing, and Evaluation

The best way to get an overview of our approach to testing is to watch Dr. Carroll’s webinars at broadcast.iu.edu. It is unrealistic to believe that we can eliminate all infections at all times. Rather our goals are to start the semester with as few infections as possible; identify and isolate those who are infected quickly and do immediate contact tracing; evaluate all campus-population cases for any patterns; and continue to test throughout the semester, while building up our own capacity to test. Note that pre-arrival and arrival testing focuses on our students, most of whom are coming from outside our immediate geographic region.

Surveillance testing includes students, faculty, and staff. Faculty and staff who are not displaying any symptoms of COVID but would nevertheless like to get a test may do so at no charge through the Optum testing site at any point through the end of September. 

  1. Pre-arrival Testing: All residential students and students living in Greek houses were required to obtain a negative COVID test within 10 days of returning to campus or to remain at home through the isolation period. These congregate-living situations are the ones we want to be sure to start with the lowest infection rates.
  2. Arrival Testing: All IUB students are in the process of receiving either a rapid antigen test or a saliva test, depending on whether they are living on-campus or off-campus. Doug Booher’s team at IU Events and the IU Student Health Center’s dedicated team have been running both of these efforts at sites on campus for over a week. Students who had classes before August 24, residence hall and Greek housing students, and RAs who had already come to campus received rapid antigen testing. All others are receiving Vault saliva testing, the results of which take a few days to receive, before classes begin. It is hard to overstate the professionalism, empathy, and care with which Doug and his team have run this crucial and unprecedented operation. 
  3. Quarantine and Isolation. Students who receive negative test results are permitted to move into their residence halls and attend classes. If a student tests positive, the student is given isolation instructions (representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services are also available on-site for students). Students who test positive are sent home if possible, given instructions to isolate in their off-campus housing or, if they are residential students, moved to Ashton. All students who test positive will be monitored medically through Twistle, IU Health’s app, and calls from medical personnel when appropriate. Twistle is not available to people who have not received a positive test; if you do, you will receive access.
  4. Symptomatic Testing: All members of the IU community should download the IU Health app by logging on to iu.edu and following the prompts for COVID Health Services. If you have symptoms of COVID, the app will screen you and direct you to testing. In Bloomington, if you have symptoms, you will be directed to testing sites at the IU Student Health Center or at IU Health Bloomington. If you test positive, you will receive access to the Twistle app for ongoing monitoring.
  5. Surveillance Testing: Working with epidemiologists and biostatisticians, IU will conduct weekly surveillance testing of faculty, staff, and students. We will use the Vault saliva test to do this, and you may receive requests to participate starting the week of August 24. IU is also commissioning its own labs for testing, and expects to have them ready later in the semester. 
  6. Contact Tracing: All IU community members must cooperate with contact tracing.  As part of our plan to return to campus, IU has invested in a contingent of contact tracers who are supplementing the state and county efforts. Contact tracers focus on identifying those who are at risk because they have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID. The CDC defines a close contact as someone who has been within 6 feet of a person with COVID for 15 minutes or more starting 2 days before illness onset. It is critical for you to follow all the seating rules in the classroom and physical distancing and masking rules everywhere in order to avoid being a close contact. People who are close contacts within this definition will need to quarantine.
  7. Ongoing Evaluation: We will be releasing the results of the arrival testing at the conclusion of the testing period. The video you received at the end of last week explains our monitoring methodology, and we are in the process of determining the best approach to sharing a useful dashboard of the metrics we are monitoring.

E. New Academic Calendar; Flu Vaccine and Flu Season

Flu season in Indiana is at its worst from December to February, and we have obtained flu vaccine for our students, faculty, and staff, who are required to obtain a flu vaccine when it becomes available this year. However, in order to mitigate the combined impact of flu and COVID, we have adopted a new academic calendar that takes our classes online from Thanksgiving to early February.

There are not words to express adequately my gratitude, on behalf of all of the members of our community and our institution, for the tireless work that thousands of IU staff and faculty have done over the summer. We do not know when we will be at the end of COVID-19. It is this work—all of it—that gives us our best chance to succeed. As I told the students of the Class of 2024 in this year’s Induction Ceremony, we are on an unmapped path. It is with a great sense of seriousness and purpose that we walk that path together, knowing that we are utterly dependent on each other to create a new map. 

Our students know from personal and difficult experience the human toll this pandemic has exacted. So do we all. But we face this adversity with the character that defines IU, knowing that our collective efforts support a deeply important and humane mission of education and research.   

Thank you for all you have done, and for all you are on the verge of doing. 

With admiration and gratitude,

Lauren Robel
Provost and Executive Vice President