Southern announces Fall 2020 safety procedures, first wave of employees return to campus


In an email sent to students on the evening of Monday, June 15, Southern Adventist University President David Smith announced the top 10 new safety measures and policies that will be implemented to provide COVID-19 protection for students and employees during the upcoming Fall 2020 semester. 

Essentially, the 10 points focused on areas of crowd management, sanitization procedures, new food delivery methods, daily screening and mask requirements, as well as a proposed schedule change for the fall semester. 

“These 10 points have been developed in collaboration with the University Health Center to meet or exceed the state and Centers for Disease Control health guidelines for higher education,” Smith wrote. “We believe this will be an amazing fall semester, complete with vespers, intramurals, Student Association events, and face-to-face classes.”

According to the email, these 10 points are only part of Southern’s overall efforts, which students and parents will hear more about over the next weeks and months. 

Prior to the release of the email, the first group of faculty and staff members returned to campus Monday morning as part of the first phase of reopening the campus. According to Southern’s Risk Management Coordinator Irene Royo, the campus will remain closed to the public until July 13, and all faculty and staff will not be back until mid-July. She said that while the first phase of employees is returning, the school is highly encouraging only those who have been assigned to return in the first phase to be on campus. 

“A second cohort of employees will be returning at the end of June and the final cohort will arrive on July 13,” Royo said. “I expect we’ll need to open at least one more temperature check-station for the summer months as the number of employees getting their daily assessments increases.”

According to Executive Director of Budgeting and Financial Analysis Doug Frood, who returned to campus Monday morning as part of the first phase, the safety of campus will be analyzed by staging everybody to come back over the next three to four weeks to get a feel for what’s going on and what needs to be worked on. 

“We’re trying to not bring all 475 faculty and staff members back at the same time. I think we’re doing about 130 or 140 at a time,” Frood said. “In my case, I was one of those who could have easily kept working from home but my house is not beautifully well set up as the office. I said,  ‘Hey, if I can come back – and at this point we think it’s good to go –  then I’m ready to go.”

While most of the financial administration team is back on campus along with a few accounting and human resources employees, Frood said that other departments located in Wright Hall have yet to open their doors. 

“I haven’t seen anybody from Admissions yet in terms of a regular basis, but HR has at least one or two of their employees back,” Frood said. “We’re rotating staff down in Accounting, so half come in and then half work from home. And I did see two or three people from the Registrar’s office, but I haven’t walked byStudent Finance yet.”

Upon returning to campus, Frood acknowledged the convenience of being back in the office compared to working remotely from home for the last three months. He said that while working from home had its challenges with space problems, the biggest challenge was the lack of access to files that are kept in the Accounting Office. 

“The big thing for me being in financial administration and dealing with accounting, there’s a lot of documents that we don’t have scanned online yet. I have to come in because I can’t take all those documents home,” Frood said.

According to Associate Chaplain Anna Bennett, while she enjoyed the flexibility she gained while working remotely, she is energized to be back on campus with her colleagues. She said that as an introvert, working remotely was probably more enjoyable for her than to many others as it afforded her a slightly more flexible schedule and the ability to multitask and be more present with her family. 

“While I still put in the same number of hours working remotely as I normally would on campus, I have been so fortunate during these last three months working remotely to not have too many challenges directly associated with working from home,” Bennett said. “Therefore I’ve been eager to support university students and employees who have faced a great many challenges.”

In order to ensure faculty and staff members are meeting health and safety guidelines, Bennett said the university has implemented protocols for employees returning to campus. These protocols include completing a short daily online survey in the morning, participating in a drive-thru temperature check at one of three locations on campus, wearing a wristband all day to show one has met those first two requirements, wearing a mask when one is indoors with other employees, continuing to have many meetings online and moving meetings that are necessary to have in-person to the outdoors as much as possible.

“The university has done a great job of making these precautions as easy as possible, and I’ve not had any issue with these thus far,” Bennett said. “I’ve also deeply appreciated the extra support from the Service Department, the University Health Center and so many others who are manning the daily check-in stations and or sanitizing surfaces in our offices, bathrooms, entry doors, etc. with regularity.”

According to Frood and Bennett, they were approached by their supervisors to see if they would be comfortable with being part of the first wave of returning employees. Both said they were willing to volunteer to come back to campus knowing the precautions and protocols the university has put into place. 

While there is still work to be done and plans to be finalized, Frood said the excitement of returning to campus outweighs the concerns. Of the 10 points that were listed in the email, he said he is most looking forward to seeing how the new food service methods will be executed. 

“I’ve been involved with the conversations about how we’re going to navigate food delivery. Lunch really has us concerned about how to get everybody through and fed,” Frood said. “But we’re making progress. We will have a good semester and, hopefully, everybody will look back and say, ‘That was a great challenge, but it was useful.’”

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