President Cheng prepares NAU for coronavirus

President Rita Cheng at the fall campus forum, Oct. 15 2019. The topic of the spring forum Tuesday has been changed to focus on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

President Rita Cheng distributed an email to students, faculty and staff Monday afternoon about NAU’s ongoing concern and consideration to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

According to Cheng’s email statement, the university is actively working to assess the potential spread of COVID-19 around campus and the Flagstaff area. Additionally, this ongoing surveillance focuses on continuing university coursework, research and general operations.

In order to maintain a safe and stable campus environment, Cheng encouraged the NAU community to also monitor the situation. In this regard, the university’s population can share accurate and appropriate details about COVID-19 and its progression.

“The health and well-being of the Lumberjack community is our utmost concern,'' Cheng's email concluded. “I want to thank you for supporting each other … Continue to check the NAU website for updates related to our community and stay informed by referring to state and federal websites for accurate updates.”

The email statement also referenced various resources regarding guidance, preparation and safety tactics for addressing COVID-19. One medical professional Cheng cited is Cara M. Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). According to the organization’s website, AZDS anticipates more cases of COVID-19 around Arizona.

“While only one case has been reported in Arizona for an individual who has since recovered, we expect more cases will occur here in the future,” Christ reported for ADHS on their website. “In order to best protect Arizonans, we all must work together to be responsive to this evolving situation.”

Christ also said ADHS is working to increase local testing capacity, monitor individuals with suspected infections, calculate their contacts, consider social distancing options and arrange preparedness plans, among other options. Ultimately, these endeavors are designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its subsequent impact.

During a meeting at the School of Communication early Monday morning, Cheng also said NAU is prepared to offer classes and continue education via digital platforms. By using this technique, infected students or faculty — who are healthy enough to participate — can contribute from a safe distance.

“All courses have an [online] shell, but not all faculty are using Blackboard Learn in that manner,” Cheng told The Lumberjack reporters. “Our elearning operation is going to make sure they can help faculty who need that support … Operational continuity is very important to us.”

According to another article in The Lumberjack addressing COVID-19, the disease infected specific parts of the world more intensely. Subsequently, these varying levels of severity have influenced NAU’s decision to send select students home from study abroad programs.

“Following level 3 travel advisories from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC and U.S. State Department, NAU has required all students studying abroad in China, South Korea and Italy to return home as quickly and safely as possible,” Cheng stated via email.

During Monday’s meeting, Cheng also discussed the approximate 1,400 international students currently in Flagstaff. Once the semester ends, these students could go home or stay at NAU, influencing summer enrollment figures and creating further demand. Consequently, Cheng said the university may offer additional coursework this summer.

The email statement also encouraged the university community to consider CDC advisories and avoid nonessential travel within dangerous areas. Furthermore, NAU and AHDS provided general health guidelines for Arizonans to implement and follow.

These recommendations include avoiding contact with people who are sick, not touching the general facial area, washing hands, covering coughs and disinfecting frequented objects. According to both sources, the spread of respiratory diseases can be slowed by basic health awareness and protocol.

President Cheng's annual spring campus forum, which is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, will specifically focus on discussions about the disease. More local coverage regarding the spread of COVID-19, which includes Arizona’s preparedness, planning and response, will be provided as necessary.