As JMU anticipates the return of its students to Harrisonburg, new measures have been implemented across campus with the goal to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The Health Center has made several operational changes in order to accommodate the needs of students during the pandemic.
A new Respiratory Clinic was created over the summer to treat students with respiratory symptoms, according to the Health Center’s FAQ page on COVID-19. Kristina Blyer, interim director of medical services at the Health Center, said the clinic is located in the urgent care entrance and has a separate waiting area from other students. She said the rooms in the clinic have negative pressure in them, which she said means there’s a difference in the air flow that makes it safer to evaluate students with a respiratory illness.
Blyer said medical staff in the Respiratory Clinic will be required to wear full personal protective equipment, and she said they’ve opted to use reusable gowns and face shields to reduce the need to continuously order new equipment. Junior nursing major Yanely Correa said she feels confident about the Health Center’s new changes.
“I think the Respiratory Clinic is such a good idea,” Correa said. “It’s just nice to know that they’re already prepared and have a plan.”
Limiting unnecessary physical contact has also become a goal for the Health Center in order to lower the risk of exposure to COVID-19. In an email, Andrew Guertler, medical director of the Health Center, said telemedicine visits over WebEx are now available to be scheduled online.
Blyer said the Health Center has increased the number of triage nurses — nurses responsible for determining a patient’s level of need for medical assistance — and students can schedule appointments for the nurse clinic online. Students are asked to call to make an appointment rather than coming in, she said, to make sure that they go to the correct place to suit their needs.
“The Health Center staff is really committed to supporting the entire JMU community through this pandemic,” Blyer said. “We really have the goal of helping students stay on campus.”
Many students, including senior nursing major Brittany Mills, rely on the Health Center as a primary healthcare option while at school. Having worked in a clinic over the summer, Mills said it’s important that healthcare facilities have several precautions in place to limit exposure.
“I’m sure that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the Health Center up and running because it’s kind of our go-to when we’re sick,” Mills said. “It’s a free option for students.”
In order to decide what changes needed to be put in place, Blyer said the Health Center has looked at guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health and the American College Health Association. She said measures were taken that fit these guidelines and fit the needs of JMU and local communities.
Blyer said most of the costs associated with the changes to the Health Center were absorbed into its current budget. Additional funding was given to the Health Center to obtain rapid testing machines, she said, but they don’t have them yet because of a current national shortage. She said that they expect to receive the machines in the next couple of weeks. The Health Center was also given funding to hire a part-time occupational health nurse who will work with faculty and staff on COVID-19 matters specifically, Blyer said.
“We have spent the last four months planning,” Blyer said. “I feel that we are as prepared as we can be at this time. We’re ready to be flexible and shift if we need to based on what’s happening within our community.”
Masks are required in the Health Center, Blyer said, and they’ll be provided to anyone who comes in without one. She said masks and thermometers are now for sale at the Health Center’s pharmacy. In an email, Guertler said he “can’t emphasize face mask use enough,” and masks are the “best and only worthwhile intervention” available.
Mills and Correa said much of the responsibility to prevent an outbreak remains on the students. Although she said she’s excited to come back to campus, Mills said she’s concerned cases will rise in Harrisonburg as students return.
“Ultimately it comes down to students,” Correa said. “I feel like the students need to step it up.”
According to the VDH, Virginia has had over 100,000 cases of COVID-19 since February. Blyer said the pandemic is something that everyone needs to take seriously, and stopping the spread is ultimately a team effort between the university and its students.
“I think that this is an opportunity for us to really show the local community and the rest of the world how strong we can be and how we can look out for each other,” Blyer said.
Contact Kamryn Koch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.