It’s time for West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) students to dust off their textbooks, grab their stethoscopes and prepare for labs as the new school year’s orientation is set to begin July 27.
The medical school has created a detailed plan to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 as first- and second-year students begin the new school year and employees return to campus during Phase 3 of the school’s reopen plan.
Students were asked to return to the Lewisburg community on July 13 in order to isolate before orientation begins. Students are participating in drive-through COVID-19 testing stations this week where they will also receive personal protective equipment, including an N95 mask, a cloth mask that was hand-sewn by WVSOM staff and a face shield to be used in anatomy lab. First-year students will also drive through a station to receive their school-issued computers.
“If students follow the procedures we have put in place — that is, to self-isolate in their apartments in Lewisburg a week before we test them and that test comes back negative — we are confident that we likely don’t have any cases among our students and that risk will be minimal,” said Roy Russ, Ph.D., WVSOM’s associate dean for preclinical education. “Besides trying to protect members of our community, we also have volunteer retired faculty who are more vulnerable and employees who are more susceptible to the virus. We want to protect everybody.”
Russ said all COVID-19 test results should be returned before students are expected to be on campus for labs. This will allow administrators to identify any positive cases and enforce a quarantine, conduct contact tracing to ensure the safety of others and retest. Only students who produce a negative test will be allowed on campus, and those who have tested positive will not be allowed on campus until cleared by their physician.
The school has made significant adjustments to the environment in which students will participate in osteopathic principles and practice labs, where hands-on training is a necessary component to their medical education. The school’s Conference Center has been divided into sections to accommodate small groups, or “pods,” of no more than 22 students each. Each pod of students will participate in labs together — including clinical skills and anatomy — to limit unnecessary interaction and potential spread of a virus. While labs must be conducted in person, faculty will deliver lectures by live-streaming content that will also be archived.
WVSOM’s information technology department worked to prepare tele-thermographic systems, or digital temperature devices, placed around campus that will identify people whose temperature is elevated. The portable stations, consisting of a device about the size of a small iPad, use facial recognition to pull information from a directory, read a person’s temperature and send an email to the appropriate department in elevated cases.
“We have five devices that are set up to do facial recognition, even with masks on, of students and employees by comparing them to photos that were downloaded to each device,” WVSOM’s chief technology officer Kim Ransom said. “We are still working on the dynamics of sending an email to alert human resources for staff and preclinical education for students when a temperature is high.”
Individuals with an elevated temperature will be tested at a secondary station, and, if the elevated reading is confirmed, will be asked to leave campus and contact a health care provider. Devices are located at the entrances of buildings that students and staff frequently visit. WVSOM administrators have also designated entries and exits at campus buildings in an effort to control traffic flow and minimize congregations of people.
All WVSOM employees came back to campus beginning July 15 as part of the final phase of the school’s three-phase Return to Campus plan. Most of WVSOM’s employees began working from home in March after West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued a stay-at-home order for all state residents.
Craig Boisvert, D.O., WVSOM’s vice president for academic affairs and dean, oversees the school’s COVID-19 task force, which is made up of six administrators and faculty members. He said he is confident that the plan for students’ return to a new school year will ensure the greatest protection in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“WVSOM has considered many different factors in how to bring our students back to Lewisburg to start a new school year in the safest way possible while also keeping in mind safeguards for our employees and members of the community. We feel like we have taken necessary steps to do our part in limiting the spread of the virus,” he said. “Most students understand that while these are unusual circumstances, and the school year might be different from what they expected, they are more than willing to follow our recommendations for the safety of all.”
WVSOM administrators continue to encourage students and employees who are sick to seek medical assistance and to avoid working on campus until their symptoms resolve. Those with symptoms potentially related to COVID-19 will not return to campus until cleared by a health provider. All students and employees are to follow public health guidelines of washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
All campus buildings remain closed to the public but are accessible to WVSOM employees and students who have tested negative for COVID-19. Individuals not affiliated with WVSOM can be invited as guests of an employee for school-related business by appointment. Guests are asked to enter campus via the Welcome Center/WVSOM Library entrance and must abide by WVSOM’s COVID-19 procedures, which include having their temperature checked and wearing a mask. A disposable mask will be provided if needed.
WVSOM maintains a webpage devoted to pandemic-related updates at wvsom.edu/News/Coronavirus.