DePaul Public Safety breaks down coronavirus plan ­— or lack of


Kirsty wigglesworth | Associated press

A woman wears a mask as she walks near Chinatown in London.

As coronavirus cases continue to appear globally, including two in Chicago, anxiety is on the rise. For a university integrated into a major city like DePaul, that fear may seem more pressing. What would DePaul do if a student or faculty member was diagnosed with coronavirus? Public Safety’s Cheryl Hover breaks down the university’s plan, which can be summed up in a few words: follow the CDC’s guidelines. 

Q: Obviously, coronavirus on campus is not a huge concern as of now, based on what the CDC and the city have been telling us. But what are some preventative measures that you’d suggest for students to ensure that this doesn’t get brought to campus?

A: So first off, just to be clear, I’m not a medical doctor. I just want to make sure that that is clear. But we very much take our guidance, as we always have, from both the CDC and Chicago Public Health — sometimes the Illinois Department of Public Health, depending on what local organization we want to work with. But they have and certainly are in agreement on the same recommendations for any flu: washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick, practicing just good hygiene, in terms of coughing into your elbow — those kinds of things. So really, the standard practices of flu prevention are the same for Coronavirus that everything that is coming out from the CDC.

Q: Anything more specific?

A: The CDC also has very specific guidelines on whether or not you should get tested for coronavirus. And that depends on your travel.

(The CDC and Chicago Department of Public Health declined to comment for this story, pointing to their online guides for answers.)

Q: So if it did show up on campus, say, in the dorms, what would the plan be?

A: We have a couple of different things involved in our plan and it very much depends on the illness. We’re focused on Coronavirus. We don’t have the kind of details on how it’s spread yet. From the CDC, they have some theories that are probably fairly accurate based on some other viruses that are really similar to the Coronavirus that they’ve seen spread. They have ideas on how it’s transmitted, but they haven’t been able to confirm that. But we routinely take guidance from the CDC if it was a local case.

We would probably be working with the Chicago Department of Public Health, you know, on a local case. They would give us guidance on exactly what needs to be done, and they would be working directly with the infected individual — student, faculty or staff — in terms of, you know, if they’re in a hospital setting, we want to make sure they are getting care that is appropriate. But then there is the issue of harm.

Public health would likely take the lead on working with that person and figuring out what needs to be done from a house standpoint, and then we would look to their guidance. We typically will do extra cleaning; a lot of times that is the guidance. Sometimes we do it immediately, depending on the virus, because it can’t hurt to do the cleaning up. But a lot of times it does involve extra cleaning and housing also has some plans in place. Sometimes, you know, people just need to stay home. If it’s in the residence hall, they might need to stay in the residence hall. If they have roommates, we might need to look to do something where we might have to move students. We don’t like doing that. Of course, housing could talk to you about their specific plans if we wanted to get into more detail.

(DePaul’s Department of Housing declined to comment for this story, citing “no statement as far as they can tell” and noting that that statement would come from a “higher administrative power anyway,” according to a representative from the department.)

We don’t want to get into that kind of detail, but we do have some things in place that we could do with students in our specific residence halls. A lot of it does involve cleaning, especially if you look at the residence halls with communal bathrooms.

Q: So I know that — based on what I’ve read, at least — coronavirus has a more significant impact on people with low immune systems. If a DePaul student who maybe doesn’t have this low immune system gets coronavirus, would they be encouraged to not go to class or would they still be in the classroom?

A: Of course, it depends on what’s going on, if that individual is confirmed. So right now, the CDC is doing all the testing for coronavirus. So if they have come back and said it’s confirmed coronavirus, they would give guidelines on how long that person should not be in contact with other people. I don’t know exactly what their recommendations are; you check with the CDC, how many days, how many weeks they should not be in contact. Likely they would not be going to class.

Q: DePaul is always talking about how the city is our campus, and it’s true that our whole campus is integrated into the city of Chicago. If this became a public health crisis in Chicago and not specifically on DePaul’s campus, what would DePaul do to shield its students from that?

A: We would very much rely on the public health department. You know, other issues have come up to really look to their guidance, and right now they have said no masks, so do not. Chicago residents do not need to change their travel habits, you know, in terms of public transportation — those kinds of things. So we are relying very much on the policies.