While most Wayne State students are away from campus, awaiting a decision on how campus life during a pandemic will resume in the fall, some employees are returning to work under new guidelines.
One hundred to 200 employees have returned to work on campus this summer, Chair of the Public Health Subcommittee and College of Nursing Dean Laurie Lauzon Clabo said.
This came a few weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order on June 1, which allowed some businesses to resume but stated that work that is able to be done remotely must continue to do so.
As part of the Academic Restart Committee, the Public Health Subcommittee monitors emerging information about COVID-19 to ensure WSU creates reopening plans based on science, according to the university’s website. This includes establishing guidelines involving testing, managing symptoms, mitigation and educating people on the virus.
“You know, as we reopen the campus, one of the things that's going to be really important is that we do this slowly and in a very careful phased manner,” Clabo said.
Adhering to the new guidelines is Pei-Chung Lee, a researcher and assistant professor of biological sciences in his first year working at WSU. Lee, and all other employees returning to campus, must follow a set of procedures in order to do so.
Clabo said when the new semester rolls around, those returning to campus-including students- will likely have to commit to the same standards currently in place.
“There are some graduate students who are working in research labs, and they're following the same process as everyone else,” Clabo said. “The education modules, the daily screener, wearing —at a minimum— a face covering in all public spaces on campus and maintaining social distancing six feet apart.”
An employee’s return to campus begins with them contacting their supervisor to confirm that their work must be done on campus.
Once approved by their supervisor, employees must complete the “Be Warrior Safe” training modules created by the WSU Public Health Subcommittee. These online courses provide an overview of COVID-19 and how it spreads and strategies for keeping campus safe.
After this and 48 hours before an employee returns, a Campus Daily Screener must be completed. This screening questionnaire —which must be completed every time an employee needs to be on campus— asks about possible symptoms an individual may be experiencing, travel within the last 14 days and if someone is waiting for COVID-19 test results.
Clabo said as of June 15 approximately 9,000 screening tests have been completed.
“The university has the responsibility to protect the campus, and if someone is exhibiting symptoms of a highly contagious disease, they can be told, ‘you should not be on campus today’,” Clabo said.
After Lee went through all the procedures, he was given a barcode which allows him to enter authorized buildings pertaining to his work, he said. Without the barcode, access to buildings on campus can and will be denied.
“You need to scan your barcode into everything,” Lee said.
Within the building where he works there are other restrictions too, Lee said.
“We have to designate certain stairs for only up or down. Even using bathrooms now has the limitation of how many people can get in. So there is less risk of course, but now it takes more time and more work to follow those rules,” Lee said.
According to WSU’s website, lunchrooms, lounges, conference rooms and other communal spaces within buildings will be closed for the foreseeable future. Non-essential visitors are also currently not welcome on campus.
The biggest hurdle Lee has had to overcome is starting and maintaining a new part of his routine, he said. Before the pandemic, lab researchers were already expected to wear gloves and refrain from touching their faces.
Just as before, he said he is still doing an immense amount of work.
“As an assistant professor, I don’t really have time to even go for a walk,” Lee said. “I have too much work in front of me all the time and I need to get it done.”
Lee made his return to campus to focus on his research of Hippo pathway and Legionella pathogenesis. Lee said what he is researching has some similarities to COVID-19.
“The bigger theme to what we are studying is ‘How does bacteria make people sick?’ In this case, it is a lot like a virus,” Lee said. “The legionella that we are studying, is like a virus in the sense that once it infects human cells, it begins to replicate itself in many ways.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionella is a bacteria found in freshwater that can cause health risks when found in water systems. This bacteria can lead to Legionnaires' disease, a type of pneumonia caused by someone breathing in or swallowing bacteria found in the water.
Lee said he tries to limit the time that he and other researchers spend on campus.
“This is not like our home where it is just you or your family. Minimizing how much time is spent at your lab, doing lab work efficiently, is an essential thing,” Lee said.
While the Public Health Subcommittee is creating these guidelines, everyone has a responsibility to follow them and help create a safe campus environment, Clabo said.
“I think the importance of this is a shared responsibility. My actions impact the likelihood that you contract the disease,” she said. “So it is a shared responsibility among all of us to follow safe practices that allow us to keep the campus healthy. And, you know, there's no such thing as no risk right now. It is reducing the risk as much as scientifically possible.”
Besides more strict cleaning requirements, life inside Lee’s lab has remained largely the same, he said. He works in a smaller lab, so there is no need for people to work on massive shifts. His students show up to do their work in either the morning or afternoon and then proceed to leave campus.
Lee’s research is ongoing and he is prepared to work under the same guidelines heading into the fall semester, he said.
“All of our research is essential,” Lee said. “I think that after this pandemic, the public will begin to appreciate science as something important —to continue to move forward, to move past challenges like this. There are some guidelines, but I believe that they are all essential.”
Irving Mejia-Hilario is a correspondent for The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Jonathan Deschaine, multimedia editor for The South End. He can be reached at email@example.com.