Campus Update from the President and Emmons Wellness Center

A community update from President Veitch and Sara Semal, Oxy’s senior director of student wellness, about the COVID-19 virus, the status at Occidental, spring break travel considerations plus info on preventative measures.

Dear community members:

We are writing to give an update on the status of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and what steps Occidental continues to take to ensure the safety of the Oxy community. We encourage you to visit the webpage we have created where you can find all past communication on the coronavirus as well as updated FAQs and links to helpful external resources. As always, the health and safety of the Oxy community is our top priority.

The President’s office, senior staff, Emmons Wellness Center and the International Programs Office (IPO) have been working closely to monitor the latest developments and official guidance. Emmons is working directly with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health to ensure that the College is following all local and federal guidelines. The College is actively updating its pandemic plan based on official guidance from local, state and federal public health authorities and our own specific needs. We will continue to keep you all informed.

Under such rapidly evolving circumstances, it is important that community members stay informed and rely on facts and data from authoritative sources.

About COVID-19: 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has excellent information online about COVID-19.  As the CDC noted in its Feb. 29 risk assessment, “most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States.” Federal officials from the National Institute of Health (NIH) communicated over the weekend that it is important to recognize that in most cases the coronavirus poses no greater risk than the common flu virus. For the vast majority of people who have had the illness, symptoms are mild (like a cold or flu) and they disappeared after several days. Most of the deaths caused by the virus were people at least 50 years old with pre-existing medical problems or compromised immune systems.

Status at Oxy:

There are currently no identified cases in the Occidental community. In Los Angeles County, the immediate health risk to the general public of exposure to this virus is still considered low, according to county public health officials.

International Programs Office (IPO) is closely monitoring events for those students who are studying abroad. Currently, there are no Oxy students studying in China or South Korea. Working with Oxy’s partner in Italy, IPO staff have coordinated program modifications, such as return home with remote classes, for eight students previously in Milan and Rome. IPO contacted all students currently abroad and their families and with our international partners will continue to monitor the situation. Previous updates from IPO regarding study abroad and international travel can be found here.

Our office of Human Resources will soon be providing further guidance to employees in the event someone is experiencing flu-like symptoms or is returning from certain countries overseas.

Academic Affairs and ITS have been evaluating and updating academic continuity plans, should such measures be necessary, and the Dean’s office will update faculty in more detail this week.

Spring Break Travel Considerations

Given the fluidity of this situation, all community members should err on the side of caution when travelling during spring break. Federal travel restrictions based on where the virus has emerged can impact one’s ability to leave that country, return to the United States, and/or be subject to remote quarantine upon return to the U.S. Community members considering international travel next week should be aware of the possibility of getting “stuck” at any point on their travels and not being able to return to school or work for an extended period of time. In the event that this happens, the College cannot exempt anyone from the possible consequences (loss of academic credit, illness, financial loss, etc.) due to optional travel.  

Any travel through airports, particularly international terminals, poses the risk of contact with individuals carrying communicable diseases. When travelling, remember to wash your hands often, carry hand sanitizer, use a towel to open bathroom doors, bag dirty laundry away from clean clothes, and request freshly washed towels daily. Upon return to Oxy, seek medical support from Emmons, a primary care doctor, or urgent care if you begin to experience symptoms of fever, cough and/or shortness of breath.

Preventative Measures

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Below are everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve touched someone who is sick, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • If you have cold and cough symptoms, make sure to cover your coughs and sneezes by using the crook of your arm (not your hands) or using disposable tissues and disposing of them in the trash. 

  • If you are feeling ill, stay home, except when seeking medical care, and avoid contact with others.

  • Please note that face masks do not prevent a person from getting sick--they only help prevent the spread of germs from an infected individual. If you are sneezing, or have a cough or runny nose, consider wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of germs. For more, visit the CDC’s prevention and treatment page.