Before the storm
UCR’s Environmental Health & Safety department, or EH&S, began seriously monitoring the coronavirus situation in January when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States. Campus emergency management and health officials began holding regular meetings to discuss the campus’ preparedness and response.
“There wasn’t a day where we sat down and said, ‘OK, things have changed,’ because it was incremental and happening so fast,” Wilcox said. “It’s kind of a blur when you think back to those days before March 13.”
Sheila Hedayati, executive director of EH&S; and Dr. Kenneth Han, chief medical officer at the Office of Student Health Services; used those morning huddles to stay updated on the latest reports and scientific data. They also started discussing safety measures to minimize the campus’ exposure.
“We just knew this was coming and this was similar to H1N1,” Hedayati said, referring to the 2009 virus also known as the swine flu.
Han’s office began issuing advisories providing basic information about the coronavirus, what scientists knew about the symptoms, and tips to avoid getting infected such as practicing good hygiene. On Jan. 30, University of California President Janet Napolitano halted nonessential travel to China. By the beginning of March, the seriousness of the situation had grown, with UCR officials starting to make preparations for a possible closure or the need to quarantine segments of campus. The UC travel ban was extended to all international trips. But even then, campus leaders thought any disruption would only be short-lived. On March 10, Wilcox and Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Thomas Smith announced winter final exams would not be held in person, and the first week of spring quarter would be conducted remotely. Students living on campus were told they could return home during that period.
“We knew we had a little bit of time to make a call on the spring quarter,” Wilcox said, referring to the weeklong spring break after finals. “Most of us were seeing we would probably have to go remote at that point.”
By the end of the week, the decision was made for them as the county’s public health order came down. As more data from health officials came to light, there was no question about it being the correct decision, Wilcox said.