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Notre Dame leaders discuss campus reopening in virtual town hall

| Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Notre Dame leaders met virtually for a town-hall broadcast Wednesday to discuss the steps the University is taking to operate in-person this fall and to address questions submitted by faculty and staff. The topics discussed included the percentage of students who have tested positive for the coronavirus, what the University will do in the case of an outbreak and information about the coronavirus response team.

Those present for discussion were Ann Firth, vice president and chief of staff; University President Fr. John Jenkins; Marie Lynn Miranda, provost; Shannon Cullinan, executive vice president; Mike Seamon, vice president for campus safety and university operations; and Erin Hoffmann-Harding, vice president of student affairs. 

Miranda said the University has been using data from Johns Hopkins University to monitor the national COVID-19 situation. In discerning the return to campus, the University mapped the case rate of COVID-19 across each United States county on top of data showing where each student will be ten days before returning to campus, made available from the pre-matriculation testing data.

“Eighty-two percent of our students are coming from areas where the case rates are relatively low,” Miranda said. “For the remaining 18%, we are going county by county, looking at what the case rates are like and then mapping that out with our pre-matriculation testing.” 

Miranda explained this information will help Notre Dame decide if they want to do additional testing for students coming from high case rate areas. It will also determine what surveillance testing will be conducted early in the academic year will look like. 

As of Wednesday, 1,200 of pre-matriculation tests came back with a 0.6% positivity rate. 

Cullinan said faculty and staff were not involved in the pre-matriculation testing pool because most faculty and staff have remained in the South Bend area since the pandemic began. 

Miranda said increased knowledge about the virus plus the protocols in place should allow for the campus to remain open even in the face of an outbreak. For example, if 25 cases appeared in an area, the University would consider shutting down buildings, residence halls and/or departments. Contact tracing will assist in this process. 

The University has hundreds of rooms ready should quarantining be necessary, Cullinan said. Notre Dame will also give each faculty and staff 10 COVID-19 days on top of regular sick days should they be exposed to the virus, with more information to come. 

Seamon elaborated on the COVID response team, a 30-person team in charge of the medical and public health of campus. Seamon said the Lou Holtz gate at Notre Dame stadium has been converted into a drive-up and walk-up testing site that is open seven days a week by appointment. 

Hoffmann-Harding said about 300 students are currently moved in on campus, and a total of 6,700 undergraduate students chose to live on campus this year. 

Hoffman-Harding said she was encouraged by the 90 percent of students who responded positively to complying with health protocols in a survey, even before the return to campus online orientation was in place. Hoffman-Harding said certain student leaders and student employees — such as student government members and residence hall staff — will receive more intensive training in order to build a “cultural norm” in regards to health protocols.

Hoffman said in the rare case of serious safety violation, a referral to the Office of Community Standards may be necessary as well as the possible removal of the student from the campus community. 

Cullinan said disciplinary actions against faculty and staff are also in place should safety protocols be seriously violated.

Miranda said the daily health check is necessary to fill out every day — even if people are not coming to campus — in order to monitor the entire campus community’s health. She stressed that medical data is only shared with medical professionals. Data on who is filling out daily health checks can be shared with supervisors on campus. 

Miranda said the leadership members of Notre Dame are looking at the possibilities of the spring semester, although no decisions are yet in place. She said the impact of the seasonal flu, plus the coronavirus will determine the course of the spring semester. 

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