On Friday, Sept. 4, Wittenberg University president Mike Frandsen sat down with Braeden Bowen of The Wittenberg Torch to answer questions about the rising COVID-19 outbreak on campus.
Q: How many positive COVID-19 cases are on campus right now?
Q: What happens when a student on campus tests positive for COVID-19?
A: If they test positive, they would go into isolation for our protocols. Some students have chosen to isolate at home and have left campus to do that.
Q: Does Wittenberg keep track of students who are self-quarantining?
A: We can’t keep track of people who don’t let us know, and so I don’t know how accurate our numbers are. I know who we’ve asked to quarantine. I know who the County Health District has asked to quarantine. But I don’t know if people have made that choice on their own.
Q: Do you believe Wittenberg’s COVID-19 restrictions are sufficient to contain the spread of the virus?
A: I’m concerned that they may not be.
Q: If a student tests positive for COVID-19 and is sent home, are they eligible for a housing refund? What about negative tests?
A: We aren’t sending anybody home. We are providing the option to isolate on campus. So if they go home, that that’s a choice that they’re making.
Frandsen later issued a correction. I was mistaken in saying we are not asking them to. We are asking them to return to their permanent residence if possible.
Q: How many cases or percentages will it take before Wittenberg sends all students home? What will that process look like?
A: Sending everyone home will really be the result of an outside agent. It’ll be the State or the County Health District making that demand of us. I think we would not choose that, unless directed to we may choose to have everyone shelter in place for remote instruction but on campus
Q: Are you concerned about Wittenberg’s financial situation if students are sent home?
Q: Will finances be a deciding factor in the decision on whether students go home?
A: No. We’re not going to send people home unless we’re directed to, but whether we shift to remote from campus is not going to be a financial question. It’s going to be a health and safety question.
Q: Does the COVID-19 Response Team have preparations for multiple scenarios of infection on campus?
A: I think we have a lot of scenarios and I think they’re constantly evolving because the information is constantly evolving and the circumstances are constantly evolving. The COVID-19 Response Team has a daily meeting, and the County Health District is involved with that. Some medical professionals who are helping guide us are involved in that. And so, you know, we’re doing a daily assessment of what’s going on on [sic] campus, what’s going on in the county, so I think the scenarios evolve as new information becomes available every day.
Q: Are there cases on campus that Wittenberg is not officially reporting?
A: No. Similar to the self quarantine, if someone has a is a case and has not told us, there may be things we don’t know about. But all that we know is reporting.
Q: There have been reports from involved students that secret societies are hosting hazing events where inductees are required to share drinks. To your knowledge, are secret societies still practicing this semester?
A: This is the first I’ve heard, no, so I would be very disappointed if that were the case.
Q: To your knowledge, are fraternities and/or sororities still hosting parties in their respective houses?
Again, I’d be disappointed if they are. I have not heard reports of that. I have heard reports of people hosting parties, both in dormitories and in the ‘Burbs.
Q: Are there repercussions these actions? What are they?
A: Not following the protocols is a violation the student code of conduct, and I can tell you that the conduct people are incredibly busy. There have been a number of violations of the student code of conduct. The punishment for that violation is dependent on first time versus second time severity, as it would be for any other conduct violation. Now, if the conduct gets severe enough, we will send people home for bad conduct. We haven’t done that to date. But if it gets to the point where it’s severe enough on behalf of an individual or group of individuals, we’ll send them home.
Q: Do you have concerns about Labor Day weekend?
A: I have a concern about every weekend. You know, this is this is a two day weekend. There are classes on Monday. So it’s not different in that regard, but I’m concerned about every weekend. I Hope my phone doesn’t ring too many times every weekend. And that was a that was a pre-COVID-19 thing too, right? That’s the riskiest time on any campus under any circumstances.
Q: When a WittTip is submitted, what action does the university take immediately?
A: There’s a group of people who receives those and depending on the nature of the WittTip, the follow up and there would be follow up always will depend, right? If it’s something that would [Police Division] needs to handle then they would be charged to handle that if it’s something that’s best handled by somebody in an office because it’s related to activity in an office. You know, it would go that direction. If it’s a WittTip for a student in distress, somebody in Student Development would reach out.
Q: Has the university response been successful thus far in curbing unwanted behavior?
A: Hard to tell. I think we have certainly worse where there have been student concerns that were an individual student feels at risk. I think we’ve responded to those. Well, I haven’t heard otherwise. Have we eliminated all the behavior that shouldn’t be happening? Of course not. We still have people who are not wearing masks when they should be who are not distancing when they should be. Have the actions lessened that? Have they lessened it to where I’d like to see it? No. But we all have a role to play here, right? Students have a role to play. Faculty have a role to play. Administrators have a role to play. WittPD and everybody has a role to play. In keeping this community safe, and the majority of the members of the community are doing what they need to do. But there is a minority who are not. And they are putting all of us at risk, not only health risks, but instruction risk and keeping the quality of the instruction and the experience that students are having. And that’s frustrating. I think, again, we’re doing what we can to seek compliance with behavior that we need from a public health standpoint. I hope all of us are calling people out when they’re not exhibiting the behavior we need.
Q: Why did Wittenberg choose not to test for COVID-19 upon arrival when every other member of the NCAC either has pre-arrival protocols or have mandatory on-campus testing?
A: That was the advice that we received from the Clark County combined Health District and from the medical professionals who were working with this to seek advice and we serve Considered all sorts of different testing options and reviewed scientific literature on different testing. The challenge with testing is it’s a point in time. And you and I could get tested right now, and not show symptoms, not show positive test, but be contagious. And so, if you can’t do a testing regimen, it’s not particularly effective; at least, that’s what we’re hearing from the [Clark County Combined] Health District and the medical professionals. And in Clark County, there’s still a concern about capacity of availability of tests for those who really need them. The advice we get as recently as this morning from the Health District, is that symptomatic testing is what we should be pursuing and what the system can really support right now.
Q: Do you think Wittenberg poses a financial or health threat to Clark County and Springfield?
A: Minor? Yes, sure. But if students are out in the community, whether they’re out working at a job, some students have jobs and businesses in the community, or students who are out socially at the bars or whatever, they could be carrying the virus and putting people at risk. No doubt.
Q: Is Wittenberg doing any COVID-19 testing on campus?
A: We have an arrangement with MercyHealth to do symptomatic COVID-19 testing for those people who have self identified, we are also referring people to Mercy’s RED clinic, which does some asymptomatic testing. But again, the Health District is concerned about Overall testing capacity and using tests for asymptomatic people, when there’s concern that those with symptoms or those who’ve had direct exposure may not be able to get tests if the capacity is used by people just walking into do asymptomatic testing. So yeah, so it started being done on campus this week. There’s limited hours. It was being done in a tent over by Shouvlin. We’re going to find a better location for that and expand the hours. But it will be done on campus for certain periods at a certain level, we won’t be able to handle all of the need, probably. I mean, our whole health center is Mercy run. So they’re the ones who bring that expertise to us and are members of the open board.
Q: Is anyone from Mercy Health on the COVID-19 Response Team?
A: There’s no one from Mercy on the COVID response team, but Mercy has participated in those conversations periodically. There was somebody from Mercy on the working group that kind of formed the COVID response team and the FIT group, which was the faculty group. So Mercy was involved at the front end on a regular basis and have been involved periodically since.
Q: An article in the Springfield News-Sun was released earlier this week discussing the school’s success with the virus. Did the university have any role in determining the content of the article?
A: You know, they never talked to me. Obviously they talked to Gary [Williams]. So you know, they used whatever information they were provided in writing that article and we certainly don’t have any say over what they publish.
Q: In the News-Sun article, Gary Williams said that “he hopes he will be proud of how [COVID-19] was handled.” This morning, another News-Sun article was released announcing a 600% increase in active cases on campus over a five-day period. Are you proud of the results so far?
A: I’m proud of the process we’ve put in place in the work people have done. I’m disappointed in the results. But I’m absolutely proud of all the faculty and staff and community resources who’ve been involved in putting together our plans. They have done incredible work. We keep hearing from the Health District that no one that they’re working with is doing a better job. We have one of the more challenging situations because we have a residential situation. So you know, I’m disappointed in the results, no doubt, but I’m absolutely proud of the people have been working on this for weeks.
Q: Is Wittenberg considering more stringent measures in addition to those announced [on Sept. 3]?
Q: What words do you have for seniors who are concerned about their senior year?
A: We all have a role to play in helping keep the community safe and healthy. And part of that role, which can be uncomfortable for all of us, but maybe particularly for students in a peer to peer kind of way is, is to remind people sometimes assertively that you need to wear your mask, or you need to stay six feet apart, or you need to go in through the entrance and out through the exit. And I think that, you know, I would ask seniors in particular as leaders on this campus or hope, hopefully leaders on this campus to be particularly vigilant about helping us stay safe.
Q: What advice do you have for students on campus who are scared?
A: You know, I think that probably the best thing for those students to do is reach out to campus and have compass put them in touch with resources that can help them. You know, if they have a pre existing relationship with the Counseling Center, then then skip right over compass, or they can always go straight to the counseling center if they need, they feel they need that kind of support. You know, certainly if they just have questions to send those in to the code response team. We’re getting lots of questions. And we’re posting answers to questions on the web as we can.
And but you know, the response may not be immediate or five minutes or Two hours it might be next day. But, you know that certainly, as we, as we compile answers to frequently asked questions, they can refer to the COVID-19 website. And, you know, again, if if people are scared, they should make sure they were amazed. They should make sure they stay six feet apart. You know, they should be careful about cleaning and the like, you know, we all have to protect ourselves, right? You know, when, when you’re driving, you have to be aware of the other drivers. And you have to anticipate what they may or may not do. And when you’re living in a campus community, during a global health pandemic, you’ve got a responsibility to take care of yourself as well as to the community and you know, the More of the science has evolved on this surface spread doesn’t seem to be nearly the concern that we thought it was three months ago. Right. The concern is really aerosol and droplets. And a lot of that can be alleviated. Just as we’re doing now, wearing a mask, being at distance, not having long duration contact. That’s another key piece of it. So, you know, again, take care of yourself, as well as taking care of the community.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are not concerned?
A: Yeah, they should be. They owe it to all of us to be concerned. And if they’re not concerned about their own health or the health of others on campus, The ability for all of us to do what we’re here for and that’s, you know, create a healthy educational environment. Maybe they should go home. But this is real. This is real. And people should absolutely should be concerned about it.