Response to COVID-19 at VCSU
Greetings from Valley City State University!
When students and faculty returned to campus after the holidays to begin spring 2020 semester, none of us could have predicted the impact that the coronavirus would have on our campus, community, state and nation. We were beginning to have preliminary conversations with our Emergency Management Team, but those conversations were focused on flood preparations. With the exceptionally wet fall and much winter snow, our planning efforts were directed toward potential spring flooding of the Sheyenne River. We couldn’t have imagined what the next months would bring.
Fast forward to Friday, March 20, when we made the decision to shift to online instruction for the remainder of the semester. The decision was not easy, but it was the right thing to do. I’d like to provide a brief recap to help you understand what led to our decision.
At the end of February, a reminder for preventative measures for the cold and flu, along with a mention of the coronavirus COVID-19 illness, was shared with our campus community. Less than a month ago there were only 15 positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States with no confirmed cases in North Dakota. According to the CDC, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 for the general American public remained low at that time. Less than a month later, the COVID-19 illness has gone from relatively low risk to pandemic status with almost 300,000 positive cases and nearly 13,000 deaths worldwide.
This rapidly developing situation led to increased planning efforts by the VCSU Emergency Management Team, officials from City-County Health and the North Dakota Department of Health. A community forum hosted by Valley City Public Schools provided an opportunity for health professionals, local leaders, citizens and media to have an open discussion about data and recommendations from the CDC and other health professionals. Subsequent actions at VCSU included regular messaging to our students, faculty and staff about preventative measures and recommended actions.
With spring break looming, we thought it best to give our students and faculty a heads-up about the possibility of moving to an online delivery format for a few weeks thereafter. On March 12, the decision was made to deliver the curriculum using the online platform from March 23-April 3. We believed this would provide a preventative cushion of time and distance, while we maintained continuity of instruction and allowed students to remain in their home areas. On March 16, we asked most faculty and staff to begin working remotely by March 18. Since then, many businesses and organizations throughout the state have followed similar protocols.
Finally, on Friday, March 20, we made the difficult decision to deliver academic instruction online for the remainder of the semester. As a laptop campus with a long history of technology innovation and application, VCSU was able to make the transition to distance learning relatively seamlessly. In the days before and during spring break, our faculty worked diligently to make the necessary adjustments and conversions to deliver the highest quality academic experience for our students.
We know this was the right decision for the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and community, but at the same time we acknowledge the sense of loss that so many of our students, especially our seniors, will feel as they finish the semester off campus without the personal company of their friends, peers and colleagues.
Our leadership team at VCSU places the health, safety and welfare of our students and campus community at the forefront in our decision-making processes. It is our sincerest hope that the mitigation strategies we’ve enacted will help flatten the curve and lead to a reduction in the potential number of COVID-19 cases for Valley City and Barnes County.
For their individual and collective efforts, I wish to thank all members of the VCSU Emergency Management Team, and especially Betty Tykwinski, director of VCSU Health Services, and our faculty, staff and students, along with Valley City Public Schools officials and teachers, city and county leaders, the business community, and members of the media. While the weeks ahead are filled with uncertainty regarding when the spread of COVID-19 will be curtailed, our resolve remains strong. We will emerge from this stronger and more united and focused on the importance of community and collaboration.