Updated Coronavirus Policies from ARHS, Watauga County Schools and Appalachian State University

Published Wednesday, March 11, 2020 at 4:26 pm

By Nathan Ham

With more and more positive cases of the Covid-19 Coronavirus spreading across the country, local organizations have continued to update their policies to be prepared just in case a positive case of the coronavirus would happen to be found in the High Country.

So far, the High Country Press has received three updates from Watauga County Schools, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Appalachian State University.

Watauga County Schools Evaluating Student Trips and Activities

On the recommendation of local health officials, Watauga County Schools is evaluating whether certain school-sponsored student travel and field trips can proceed as coronavirus continues to affect the state and country at large.

Student travel and field trips will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the district until further notice.

The school system will remain in constant communication with officials from the Appalachian Regional Health Department and will continue to evaluate all trips based on information from the CDC and the latest guidance from AppHealthCare.

Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott explained that the district’s response to the threat of coronavirus was dynamic and would evolve with changing news and conditions.

“Based on recommendations from the local health department, we are canceling or rescheduling some of our out-of-state trips. Some others will be allowed to continue based on the location and prevalence of coronavirus in those areas. Right now, we are not canceling the in-state trips, but that too could change.”

The decision to suspend a number of field trips comes after health officials recommended the district curtail any unnecessary travel to places known to be affected by coronavirus. Elliott said that he is discussing each of the district’s trips on a case-by-case basis with local health department officials and with school principals.

Currently, there is no plan to change or alter the spring athletic schedule. WCS is in communication with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association regarding upcoming sporting events, but is not considering making athletic schedule changes at this time.

AppHealthCare encourages students and families to discuss their risk level for coronavirus with their healthcare provider if they plan to continue with any personal trips. Each person and family should consider their own personal risks with traveling.

Local health officials have also encouraged families to evaluate their personal travel plans, especially during Watauga County Schools’ spring break, April 13-17. Families are encouraged to avoid areas with increasing instances of coronavirus, and to anticipate possible screenings of students before they return to school if they have traveled out of the state or country.

“We regret the inconvenience of any changes to our student’s schedules, but we must take seriously the health department’s recommendation to limit travel in the interest of preventing our students’ exposure to coronavirus,” Elliott said. “School systems, employers and universities are taking similar precautions in areas where coronavirus is being diagnosed. The health and safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. We are trying to take a balanced and measured approach to these decisions and will continually evaluate the entire situation as it unfolds.”

Watauga County Schools continues to take appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of its students and staff. School personnel have increased normal routines for sanitizing and cleaning facilities. The district recently purchased new cleaning equipment and chemicals specifically to combat the spread of viruses. School nurses continue to monitor student health conditions and advise parents regarding school attendance for children with chronic health conditions and those displaying respiratory illnesses.

“There is no one thing we can be doing to prevent the spread of viruses,” Elliott said.  “Working together, we can take a balanced approach to keeping our schools safe and our students healthy.”

Watauga County Schools has set up a webpage to house information about coronavirus and the district’s response at www.wataugaschools.org/coronavirus.

Appalachian State University Policy and Guidelines Update (March 9)

  • Classes will continue as scheduled. At this time, there are no public health recommendations to cancel classes, but faculty may choose to take classes online as they determine best meets the needs of their classes. Please see memo to faculty and staff from Academic Affairs here. Faculty are encouraged to utilize Center for Academic Excellence resources to assist students who may need to attend classes remotely Learn more.
  • While there are currently no cases of COVID-19 in western North Carolina, anyone who is feeling sick should stay home. Per CDC guidelines for institutions of higher education, faculty are encouraged to make accommodations (e.g., extended due dates, electronic submission of assignments), as possible, for individuals who may be temporarily unable to attend class in the event there are restrictions placed on them related to possible exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • For international travel, the university is using the U.S. CDC Level 2 Travel Warning to make determinations to suspend an education abroad program or prohibit international travel for faculty and staff. Under this temporary threshold, the University Travel Warning Policy will be suspended and appeals will be allowed only for students and faculty/staff who are already abroad. University personnel will not be reimbursed for travels to these areas. More information is here.
  • The university has no current restrictions underway for domestic travel. At this time, there are no broad-based public health recommendations for students or faculty who have traveled domestically to self-isolate or voluntarily quarantine at this time. We continue to encourage consideration of CDC and State Department guidance. More information here.
  • The university has no current restrictions underway for events. At this time, there are no public health recommendations to cancel or postpone public events. Anyone who is sick should not attend.
  • Building Services staff have increased frequency of cleaning, and have ensured EPA-registered hospital disinfectants are consistently used to clean residence halls, classrooms, offices, public spaces and other facilities and equipment
  • With regard to any coronavirus-related expenses that your respective divisions may incur, please instruct your departments to continue covering these expenses with existing available funds, while also ensuring that these costs are being properly tracked and documented. Prior to fiscal year-end, these charges will be reviewed and qualified expenses may be transferred over to a central emergency management fund. Questions about this may be directed to the Budget Office staff.
  • Compassion is key. It is important to remember that students, faculty and staff have friends, family and loved ones in areas that are at higher risk than in the United States and remain compassionate to their worries and concerns about their loved ones.
  • Check your facts. Rumors and incorrect information are circulating on social media and in other settings. It is important to rely on official sources of information for facts about COVID-19 and not to share unconfirmed information. More information here.

ARHS Issues Travel Restriction Policy for Employees

Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina yesterday in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). This type of declaration is typically issued before an emergency occurs to free state resources, alter state regulations, and change authorities within state government to allow for a quicker response. It does not mean there is imminent danger to our health system or community.

In response, ARHS is implementing safety precautions to include travel restrictions for ARHS employees. Since NC has already confirmed several cases, ARHS wants to do our part to slow the spread of the virus and limit the number of patients and employees who become infected. While there is no clear national consensus on how best to manage business-related travel, particularly in healthcare, ARHS leadership has drawn heavily on the CDC recommendations and discussion with other health systems.

This policy is effective immediately. This policy is likely to be revised and could become more stringent as information about the virus develops. Business-related and personal travel, as well as how we will support employees during this outbreak, is addressed in this policy.

Who does this policy apply:

  • All ARHS Employees
  • All ARHS Volunteers
  • All Contract Labor
  • All Students

What is COVID-19

COVID-19 is a highly contagious new strain of coronavirus, which causes respiratory infections. Currently, the CDC has identified locations where travel is either not advised or should be taken with caution. The CDC provides information about current countries under restriction and can be found on the CDC website CDC Categories 1, 2, 3 (details found via the CDC site link above) are rapidly changing, and this policy applies to all countries under the CDC policy. 

Travel Requirements for ARHS Employees

Business Travel

  • International business travel is infrequent but is prohibited in Category 2 & 3 countries, and strongly discouraged in Category 1 countries.
  • United States business travel is not allowed to any city or state in which a State of Emergency is declared.
  • Employees are asked to reconsider the value and importance of all domestic trips, give the spread of COVID-19 virus, and, if non-essential, they should be canceled or rescheduled. Employees are encouraged to use web-ex, video conferencing, or other means to minimize the need for travel (including in your local day to day work).
  • Booking of domestic travel going forward is not currently prohibited but is discouraged until more is known about the spread of the virus in the United States.
  • Expenses employees have experienced for currently booked trips for ARHS business purposes during this restricted period may be submitted for reimbursement if purchased before March 12. Refunds are only for non-refundable business-related travel or change of travel fees. Credits for future travel should be applied to future ARHS travel.

Personal Travel

  • Personal international travel is strongly discouraged.
  • There are no restrictions on personal domestic travel at this time. Still, ARHS colleagues are encouraged to use good judgment about where to travel, following the CDC information about the safety of travel in the US.
  • All travel, whether personal or business-related, is subject to the safety regulations listed below.

Safety Regulations

Anyone returning from international travel from CDC Category 2 or 3 countries is required to self-quarantine for 14 calendar days away from all ARHS work sites. They may use PDO or unpaid leave during this time.

  • For any employee who can reasonably perform their duties by working remotely, they may be allowed to do so by the Telecommuting HR policy found in Policy Manager.
  • If you are away on travel during the time this policy was issued, please contact your manager immediately upon your return home and before coming into work.
  • Self-quarantine may be required of travelers to additional international or domestic destinations based upon the spread of the virus. Please keep your manager informed of any future travel plans.

Resources for Employees

  • Employee absences due to respiratory illnesses or to fulfill quarantine restrictions will not count towards attendance points during this restriction period.
  • RelyMD, our telemedicine provider for all employees, has developed a virtual screening for COVID-19. If employees have respiratory symptoms and fever, you can utilize the telephone, phone, or computer app to receive a virtual screening for this virus.
  • Please see the CDC’s Geographic Risk Assessment for COVID019 Transmission for details on travel zone categories.
  • Employees will specific questions about this policy should contact Jamey Ellison at 828-262-4408 or [email protected]. ARHS leaders are meeting daily to advance these safety precautions and prepare for COVID-19. Travel recommendations may change and will be communicated through weekly updates from Jamey Ellison.
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