Associate Vice President for Risk Management Joseph Yohe and Assistant Vice President for Student Health James Welsh announced an updated visitor policy in order to protect the campus community from the Ebola virus in a university-wide email last week.
“The overall approach to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and to the cases that have developed here in the [United States] (two in persons visiting or returning from the three affected countries, two in health care workers caring for one of those patients) has been evolving over the past few weeks and is led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,” Welsh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We closely follow their guidance and establish policies to be in compliance with those.”
The policy states that all visitors travelling from a country subject to a Level 3 Travel Warning, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, must meet with and be cleared by Yohe before entering campus. Previously, in August, the university halted university-sponsored travel to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, all of which have a Level 3 Travel Warning, and discouraged personal travel in those areas. According to Yohe, the university has followed the unfolding of the Ebola crisis and worked to form an appropriate response.
“The visitor policy was a natural progression of our overall response efforts as it relates to the Ebola outbreak,” Yohe said. “We really started dealing with this issue back in the summer when we first began to evaluate risk to our students and our programs abroad. Sometime in August we took a step of actually putting travel restrictions in place for the three main countries in West Africa: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. … It’s a step in a series of events to try protect the university community.”
Yohe said that the university will continue to heed the advice of the CDC as it changes over time.
“At this point it is an evolving situation; we just learned about new cases today,” Yohe said. “The CDC is changing its protocol as it learns more about the disease so I would say it’s a very fluid situation and the university is trying to follow the best guidance that’s being provided by the CDC, as well as from the D.C. Department of Health.”
The policy was the result of collaboration between many different groups on campus, including senior administrators and public health professionals. The discussions also involved administrators in the Communications Office and the Office of Global Education.
According to Yohe, precautions must be taken due to the nature of the disease, although the spread to campus is currently unlikely.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned there is nothing certain about trying to understand this disease so it’s really not clear at this point,” Yohe said. “We can only take precautions and assume the worst and I think that’s how the university is approaching this. We want to be prepared so if in fact a case does happen to show up in the district that we are prepared.”
This is not the first time the university has faced challenges involving the spread of infectious diseases, and Welsh said the previous experiences helped inform his current decision making process.
“Our approach is informed by prior planning and experience with various infectious disease outbreaks (SARS, H1N1), and is done in close consultation with a number of important campus partners,” Welsh wrote.
Jake Robinson (SFS ’16) said that the precautions seem unnecessary, but that it is reasonable to ensure that students are protected.
“Even though it might be a little bit too much for a college campus I think it’s still technically the right move by the school. … Ebola is a highly infectious disease and it’s pretty contentious right now,” Robinson said. “I think it’s necessary to take these types of precautions and I think another factor is that Georgetown is a very internationally oriented school so if there was one school that I could think where visitors from West Africa would be coming it would be Georgetown.”