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UNT’s response to COVID-19 and how it compares to past widespread illnesses

UNT’s response to COVID-19 and how it compares to past widespread illnesses

UNT’s response to COVID-19 and how it compares to past widespread illnesses
April 20
15:32 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a complete shift in campus life, from classes being moved online for the spring semester and first half of summer, to canceled sporting events and closed facilities. Spring commencement has been postponed and the university has implemented a pass/fail option for grades this semester. Although this is unprecedented, UNT has seen and responded to other sicknesses that have affected the country, such as the swine flu and Ebola.  

When UNT is faced with a public health issue, it is identified by the Campus Health Advisory Team, said Kerry Stanhope, Meadows Center for Health Resources assistant director and Denton resident. This team reviews what is known about the health issue, how it spreads, where it is currently spreading and other details about the illness. 

Once the threat is identified, the health center coordinates with the laboratory to discuss testing options, the purchasing department to discuss buying medical supplies and the clinical staff about warning signs and diagnostic standards, Stanhope said. 

“Typically, all health center staff will be provided information about warning signs, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements, cleaning protocols and other ways to protect patients and employees by reducing the spread of infection,” Stanhope said. “We also coordinate with university communications to increase information about hand-washing and other ways the general campus population can reduce the risk of spreading infection.”

Swine Flu in 2009

The swine flu had an outbreak in the United States in 2009, and UNT had 21 diagnosed cases, the Daily reported.

This outbreak in Denton led to a change in structure for the university, but not as significant as COVID-19.

“UNT didn’t act as quickly as [grade] schools did where there were outbreaks, and they didn’t give us thorough enough instructions,” said Jessica Fisher-Hattey, a 2010 UNT graduate and Little Elm resident. “They did use the word ‘quarantine’ and told us to avoid attending classes if we had traveled to places of outbreak.”

Students at UNT caught the swine flu, including Pamela Brooke, a 2013 UNT graduate and New York resident, who was told she had the first confirmed case of the swine flu on campus.

“They quarantined me in a private room for six days, and I missed my first week of college courses,” Brooke said. “Meals were delivered to my room every day by different staff members in the dorm and they all wore masks.”

Swine flu was present on UNT’s campus, but it was handled accordingly before it became a widespread issue. 

“‘We feel it is always necessary to monitor situations and take precautions to protect the health and safety of our students, employees and the broader campus community,” Stanhope said. “Swine flu did not have much impact on campus because it was a variant of the influenza virus and even though it had resistance to some antiviral drugs, it could be treated with some of the standard antiviral medicines for flu.”

Those not personally impacted by the swine flu did not see a significant change in campus life. 

“We were all careful and washing our hands more, but I don’t remember doing everything we have to do now [for COVID-19],” said Lori Wolfe, UNT Director of the Teratogen Information Service and Denton resident.

Ebola in 2014

Five years later, there was an Ebola outbreak throughout the world with a total of 11,325 cases, with four of those being in the United States, the CDC reported

UNT’s Health Crisis Team took initiative to react to the outbreak accordingly to minimize harm, the Daily reported. They also made efforts to keep students and staff in the know. 

“So with Ebola, they always kept us updated, so we always got the latest information, but I don’t remember it actually impacting us in any way,” Wolfe said. 

Staff and students were told where they were permitted to travel to, avoiding countries with larger Ebola outbreaks. 

“UNT limited travel to impacted areas and we screened and monitored international students of others who traveled through those areas for symptoms,” Stanhope said.

UNT also changed its clinical setup to avoid the spread of Ebola. 

“Because of clinical recommendations for Ebola, we also set up [an] isolation treatment room, where a patient could be treated in the clinic with limited exposure to other patients and staff,” Stanhope said. “We also invested in a stock of N95 face masks and trained clinical staff on how to [put on] and take off face masks. 

UNT was minimally affected by Ebola, so the protocol taken was effective, Stanhope said.

COVID-19

Although the swine flu and Ebola were taken seriously by UNT, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater impact on UNT’s campus.

“This is the first time since I’ve been there [that] we’ve closed in-person classes, so I don’t remember anything impacting UNT the way that coronavirus is,” Wolfe said. 

COVID-19 has different circumstances than swine flu and Ebola, but the two sicknesses helped prepare the university for this pandemic. 

“I feel like UNT’s responses to the swine flu and Ebola helped us practice some of the processes that we are currently using for COVID-19 and helped us identify areas for improvement in our previous responses,” Stanhope said. “I think that our work on those previous incidents helped us create communication channels between campus departments and with the local health department that has helped us greatly during the current situation, especially as what we know about COVID-19 and how it spreads has been updating very quickly.”

Featured Image: The Administration Building sits on an empty UNT campus after an increase in COVID-19 cases in Denton County. Image by Ricardo Vazquez Garcia

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Maria Lawson

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