URI taking numerous steps to prepare for H1N1 flu

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University using variety of methods to inform community

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 2, 2009 – In response to national and state health advisories on the H1N1 strain of influenza, the University of Rhode Island has established a Coordinating Committee to monitor and respond to issues related to the virus, including communications, prevention, absences from classes and work, public safety, and management of housing and dining operations and other facilities.

The committee is chaired by Chad Henderson, director of URI’s Health Services, and Robert Drapeau, director of Public Safety, and includes members from Student Affairs, Facilities Services, Academic Affairs, Communications and Marketing and the Feinstein Providence Campus.

“We want our students and their parents, faculty and staff to know we are taking a variety of steps to prevent the spread of H1N1, provide them with expert information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rhode Island Department of Health,” Henderson said.

Since the H1N1 outbreak last spring, University officials have been monitoring issues in preparation for the opening of classes Sept. 9.

“We are not only taking steps to prevent transmission of the disease, we are setting up strategies to continue operations in key areas across campus in the event of absences caused by the spread of the H1N1,” Drapeau said.

The Coordinating Committee made communicating with students and their parents before students arrive on its campuses a priority. On Aug. 26, a letter from URI President David M. Dooley was mailed to the homes of more than 14,000 students. Dooley acknowledges the concerns students and parents may have about the virus and what they can do to prepare. All students were urged to bring a non-mercurial thermometer, tissues, alcohol hand sanitizer and possibly a small package of surgical masks.

A newly developed web site, http://www.uri.edu/news/h1n1.html, can be accessed from the University homepage, http://www.uri.edu/. The site provides links to campus communications about H1N1, the Centers for Disease Control, the Rhode Island Department of Health, URI Health Services, Academic and Student Affairs, among others. The University will follow advice provided by the CDC and the health department. The web page will also provide links to URI’s Human Resources Department for those with work-related issues.

In addition, the University will host two online chats with Health Services Director Henderson, Wednesday, Sept. 2 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m. To gain access to the chat, go to http://www.uri.edu/news/h1n1.html.

“We felt strongly about giving our community the chance to ask questions directly of a Health Services representative,” Henderson said. “We want people to be prepared with accurate information and to feel that we are accessible and ready to help,” Henderson said.

President Dooley also communicated through e-mail to the campus community on Aug. 31 in a letter that provided detailed information on classes and activities, public health precautions, treatment and response, and preparations for H1N1.

Provost Donald H. DeHayes, vice president for Academic Affairs, sent a letter Aug. 27 to faculty that outlines academic planning in relation to H1N1.

“In order for us to be prepared, I am asking that we pull together as a community and assist each other and our students to ensure the success and continuity of our academic, research and service missions,” DeHayes wrote.

“Please adjust your class attendance policy to ensure that students who are ill with influenza are not penalized for missing classes,” he continued. “We do not want ill students in class spreading the virus. Students who become sick need to know that they have your permission to stay home and get better without incurring any penalty.”

He also urged faculty to attend to their own health and to work with their departments to address illness among faculty and staff, with the hope of minimizing class cancellations.

Resident students moving in over the Labor Day weekend will be handed a letter from Housing and Residential Life that addresses concerns related to living on campus.

As necessary, URI will communicate with students, faculty and staff during the school year through the website, e-mail and voicemail updates.

“We are emphasizing a few easy, but critical steps to help prevent the spread of the illness,” Henderson said. “

Last spring during the initial outbreak, the University placed hand-sanitizing units in buildings where traffic is heavy. Those have remained in place, and URI is purchasing additional units to cover more public areas.

Posters are being distributed throughout residential and dining units to encourage hand washing and appropriate sneezing and coughing procedures. There are also plans to place posters in restrooms in academic and athletic buildings across the Kingston campus, as well as the Narragansett Bay, W. Alton Jones and Feinstein Providence campuses.

In its direct communications with students, the University has asked those who develop flu-fluke symptoms to consider going home if they live within a reasonable distance, can do so without the use of public transportation and do not have any family members with risk factors at home.

If that is not possible, the University suggests that they self-isolate in their campus residential rooms and identify someone who can deliver what Dining Services has termed “Isopacks,” which contain food and beverage items for a 72-hour period. These will allow students to eat in their rooms and prevent spreading illness in the dining rooms.

Any resident students who report flu-like symptoms to the residence hall staff will get periodic status checks from those staff members.