University prepares for potential H1N1 outbreak

The University of Manitoba is currently underway with preparations for the possible H1N1 exposure among faculty, staff and/or students this fall.

Debbie McCallum, vice-president academic, said the university’s pandemic planning committee was set up in 2006 during the avian flu outbreak and met regularly until it appeared that an outbreak would not occur. She said the committee began regular meetings once again this past spring with the development of H1N1.

The committee began working on institutional plans, including goals and assumptions as well as symptoms of flu and guidelines for supervisors. According to McCallum, the finalized plan will be distributed to deans and heads of administrative departments this week.

“During orientation, student affairs is handing out hand sanitizers and a handout is being prepared for students,” said McCallum.

She said the handout will include what H1N1 is, how it is spread, the symptoms, how to protect yourself and what actions you should take if you fall ill.

“If people show symptoms, we want them to stay home. They should stay home until their symptoms lessen and if they’re really sick they should contact a health provider.”

McCallum said that if students show symptoms in class and are obviously sick, professors are able to ask them to leave.

The university has already put posters up in all of the washrooms, including hand washing and coughing techniques. McCallum said hand sanitizer dispensers are being installed around the campus in areas where soap and water are unavailable, such as the entrances to the cafeterias.

McCallum said that each department has been asked to identify their critical functions.

“In financial services, for example, payroll is a critical function. Even if the university shuts down, the payroll has to continue.”

McCallum said students should identify another student to be their study buddy as well as a health buddy, saying this was especially important for international students.

“Many students are here from other countries or provinces and maybe don’t have that family support network with them,” said McCallum.

She said a study buddy would allow students to keep up in class if they are away sick and a health buddy would check on a student if they have been away from class to make sure they are not sick.

The planning also includes caring for animals on campus, residence students, how to keep the powerhouse running and maintaining campus security, all in the event the university is shut down.

“We can’t just lock our door and walk away. We have to have a skeleton staff of people here to make sure essential businesses continue,” said McCallum.

McCallum said that this is especially important for residence students whose homes are on campus.

“[We would have to deal] with things like how do we care for these students, how will we continue to feed them if the university shuts down, do we increase our level of cleaning to ensure other students don’t get infected and so on,” said McCallum.

“It would be a last resort [to shut down the university]. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen but on the other hand, we have to be prepared in the event that it does.”