Memorial University continues to manage through the H1N1 flu pandemic that has gripped North America in recent days. The university response is being guided by a flu pandemic plan that was formulated over the summer by committees with university-wide representation from the university’s three campuses. The pandemic plan addresses academic matters, student health issues and general prevention initiatives, business continuity planning and human resource matters, among others.
Thus far, the university has experienced a slight increase in the number of class cancellations. In addition, the university set up a student self-report mechanism that has seen more than 680 students, or four per cent of the student population, self report that they have flu-like symptoms since the start of the fall semester. Staff absences due to illness are up by 30 per cent for the week of Oct. 26-30, when compared with last year's figures. However, the university is not experiencing any serious operational challenges as a result.
“We are approaching the H1N1 issue very carefully and are focused on maintaining the health of faculty, staff and students,” said David Head, Memorial’s director of Enterprise Risk Management, and chair of the Pandemic Planning Preparedness Committee. “In addition, we are trying to ensure that the university remains open and that academic programs and research activities along with the day to day university administration continue as best as they can in the circumstances.”
A good deal of the planning work was spent on informing the campus community about H1N1 and on measures that can be undertaken to mitigate its spread. “We have a comprehensive website that we have been promoting for the past two months, and we have been holding public information sessions for people who wish to have a face to face meeting on H1N1 planning at the university,” Mr. Head explained. “We have been e-mailing students, professors and staff with important information and using posters and ads in campus papers to promote the site.”
The university is also dealing with the large student population, including a significant group who live in the university’s residence complexes.
The university has about 40 cases of flu-like illness in the residences on the St. John campus and approximately 15 reporting flu-like symptoms on the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College campus in Corner Brook. The number of actual H1N1 cases cannot be accurately reported because testing is not being comprehensively done.
“Our student residence assistants (RAs) are devoted to ensuring that students are informed about H1N1 issues like prevention, but are also looking in on students who have the flu and who may need help,” Mr. Head said. “RAs can arrange to have meals sent to students’ rooms, and can arrange for transportation if a student feels they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital. On the St. John’s campus, we are also curtailing visits to houses that have higher rates of flu-like illness than most, which has happened in Doyle house. We want parents of students to know that the H1N1 situation is being proactively managed and students have resources they can draw on if they need help.
”The residences at Sir Wilfred Grenfell campus are not seeing as many cases of flu-like illness, but similar precautions and procedures are in place for the students on the university’s west coast campus.
“At Grenfell College we are not seeing a large amount of housing students reporting they are ill, approximately four or five per week,” said Jennifer Mitchell, manager of Student Housing at Grenfell. “We have been informing students about H1N1 preventative measures, and are supporting those who are sick by ensuring housing staff are keeping in touch. Student housing will also arrange meals and transportation to flu clinics for those who are ill.”
Dr. Norman Lee, the physician who manages the St. John’s student health clinic, has also been visiting the residences to examine students who wish to have a medical consultation. “I am trying to get through all the student requests,” Dr. Lee said. “The goal here is to see the bed-bound and ensure they have no complications, alleviate some anxiety for students and parents, and get them on Tamiflu in an effort to shorten their illness and slow the influenza outbreak in residence.
“We are seeing increased numbers of influenza cases through the campus clinic,” Dr. Lee added. “Last week we had about 30 cases, and this week there has been a considerable jump, and swabs are coming back showing H1N1. Our staff is vaccinated and using respiratory precautions. We are encouraging patients to use Eastern Health flu clinics if possible, because demand is high.”
The university continues to promote the three C campaign aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus. The campaign urges the campus community to clean, cover and contain; hand washing is still considered to be the best prevention technique, while covering one’s mouth with the crook of one’s arm helps lessen the spread of droplets that could carry the virus. Finally, faculty, staff and students are urged to contain the virus by staying home until they are better. The university has eliminated the usual requirement for a sick note in cases where people with flu-like illness stay home beyond three days. The measure is intended to lessen the pressure on family clinics and emergency rooms.
Eastern Health, the regional health authority, has also approached the university about setting up an immunization clinic on the St. John’s campus so that faculty, staff and students can get the H1N1 vaccine on campus. Discussions with Eastern Health continue on logistical details of the clinic, and the university will advertise the location and clinic hours as soon as they are known. In Corner Brook, vaccinations for students at Grenfell College are currently planned to take place at the Pepsi Center, adjacent to campus, as part of Western Health’s mass immunization plan.
Memorial University’s Fisheries and Marine Institute has also been an active participant in Memorial’s pandemic preparedness planning and is carefully monitoring the situation on its campus. The institute is tracking class cancellations and student absences and has seen no appreciable increase in the number of employee absences. The institute is working diligently to promote the three C campaign, providing access to H1N1 information via the Marine Institute and Memorial websites and ensuring that hand sanitizers are available for students, employees and visitors.