August 8, 2009

Dear NAU Faculty Member,

The H1N1 virus—sometimes called swine flu—continues to spread across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, the Coconino County Health Department and Northern Arizona University are anticipating a high volume of flu cases when our students return for the fall semester.

It is impossible to say how the pandemic will affect campus. Health officials say H1N1 is so widespread that they discourage individuals with flu-like symptoms from seeking medical assistance unless they have underlying health issues or severe symptoms. Fronske Health Center will attend to any student seeking help, but are concerned they may be unable to see everyone with symptoms.

Working on advice from the CDC and the county, Fronske will ask students displaying flu-like symptoms to stay out of class and, if possible, return home for the duration of their illness. Sick individuals should not attend class or expose others until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100° F), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

I am asking faculty and staff to join with Fronske to address this pandemic. Because Fronske officials may be overwhelmed with patients, they too are discouraging anyone who doesn’t need immediate medical attention from coming to the center.

As a result, some legitimately ill students may not have doctors’ notes, nor will they be able to get one. I am hoping that you will be understanding toward absences during this difficult time. Information being shared with all students asks them that if they become ill with the flu, to contact their professors via email or phone, as soon as possible. In the email, phone call or voice mail, they should inform you of their illness and how long they expect to be absent from class. They should also be informed that they are responsible for any work missed including assignments and tests. This said, I would urge you to give some thought to what you might do about students who may be unable to finish coursework in a timely fashion, perhaps necessitating giving more incompletes. Or, it may be that some of your content delivery or assignments might be completed and submitted electronically rather than being turned in in person. These are difficult to think about in advance, but better to give some thought to this now before the issues present themselves.

I would suggest that if your Fall 2009 course syllabi are not yet completed, you consider modifying them to indicate that flexibility will be necessary on all fronts concerning students’ potential illness—we don’t want them to come to class if they are ill because of the risk of contaminating others.  Flexible absence policies will need to be considered as we see how widespread this flu may be.  I realize that giving students carte blanche is not a wise approach either—I just ask that you approach this season cautiously and with extra sensitivity to the possibility of high absence and illness rates.  Below is some possible language for you to consider inserting in your Fall syllabi:

While class attendance is required per the [above/below] stated policy, please be cautious about attending class if you are feeling ill.  Please inform me by phone or email if you are feeling unwell; if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, you should not attend class; please take precautions not to infect others, and seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen”.

Please also be aware that you may become ill with the flu and your department may want to discuss contingency plans for the possibility of a high number of faculty becoming ill. You too will be asked to follow CDC recommendations to stay at home and not expose others until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100° F), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

A comprehensive prevention and education campaign for the fall semester is under way and includes widespread distribution of posters promoting good hygiene, hand sanitizers installed in hundreds of locations and educational information distributed to every member of our community and parents.

To learn more about H1N1, including symptoms and prevention tips, visit www.nau.edu/flu.

 

Sincerely,

Liz Grobsmith, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs