Ohio University

An introduction letter about public health

Published: September 18, 2020 Author: Staff reports

The below message was shared with the OHIO community on Sept. 18, 2020.

Dear Bobcat community,

I write to you today in my role as special assistant to the president for public health operations. It is my goal to send weekly letters updating you on all things COVID at Ohio University. I am writing this week to introduce myself, my staff and the work of many to prepare and manage Ohio University’s approach to COVID. This email is longer than my future emails will be, so please be patient with me.

Background, Strategy and Team
I am a professor of social medicine in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the mom of two kids, ages 12 and 14. I have been employed by the medical school at OHIO for 20 years, serving as the director of the Global Health Initiative since 2012. Because of my background and training in public health, I have been deeply engaged in the OHIO COVID planning process and have served as special assistant to the president for public health operations since late July. 

In my current role, I advise the president and provost and collaborate with people across the University (please see below) to plan and implement our strategy: to persist in our educational mission while protecting health and safety. There is no aspect of University operations and life that is unaffected by COVID.  

COVID management at OHIO
First, we must acknowledge that no strategy will reduce COVID cases or risk to zero. No matter what we do as a University, we cannot make COVID disappear from any OHIO counties. Because the problem is complex, a simple solution is not adequate. As such, we are pursuing a multipronged strategy, and our team remains open to new and creative solutions.

Public health works by implementing multiple approaches -- primary, secondary and tertiary prevention; we are implementing activities in all three categories. This is challenging as there are multiple constituencies impacted by these strategies and each of us has a different combination of goals, priorities, and tolerance of risks – the balance of which impacts our behavior and expectations of what OHIO should do in response to the pandemic. We work to balance these different perspectives as we plan and implement our prevention and response strategies.

There are three primary tools we are using to manage COVID at OHIO:

  1. The COVID Hotline: This provides testing for symptomatic students and employees and clinical case management.
  2. The COVID19 Incident Report: This is managed by my case management team, providing support to those impacted by COVID, helping manage exposures on campus.
  3. Asymptomatic testing: We will begin testing people, including on- and off-campus students and employees, without symptoms, next week.  We will do a combination of testing related to confirmed cases and random sampling testing. The goal of this strategy is to identify outbreaks early and act to contain them. You can read more about this testing in this OHIO News article.

We expect that everyone at OHIO will use these resources. I am happy to report that many are calling the hotline and completing incident reports. Here are data we have gathered so far:

  • As of September 15, we received incident reports involving 243 people across OHIO.
  • So far, we have received more reports from women (69%).
  • Incident reports are distributed across the University, with the greatest number from the College of Health Sciences and Professions (23%), followed by the College of Arts and Sciences  (14%), College of Business (10%), Patton College of Education (11%), Scripps College of Communication  (11%); and the remaining colleges under 10%.
  • As of September 15, our provider reported 261 total completed tests, the majority of which were from Athens (247). Eighty-four tests were positive. (Totals include OhioHealth tests and those from other providers.) The counties also report data to the state, which we capture on our dashboard, currently updated on Tuesdays and Fridays (see https://www.ohio.edu/coronavirus/dashboard).

By law, all tests completed by all providers are reported to the local health department. These data are captured in our dashboard and updated every Tuesday and Friday.

What you can do
We expect that all students, faculty and staff will cooperate with public health officers and initiatives.  If you are exposed, symptomatic or positive, you will communicate with three entities: OhioHealth, public health/health department, and Ohio University COVID case management. Please take each of these calls because each has a distinct and important function. The information that you share with these entities is confidential. Information about your individual status or behavior will not be shared with others; what we care about is helping you and helping the community. 

I receive daily reports about people not complying with Dr. Nellis’ President’s Health Directives. Community Standards is ready and able to take action against students who are putting themselves and others at risk by not complying with public health mandates, but we cannot enforce school standards unless we have details about who is involved and what the infraction was. In Athens, we are working with the City, OUPD, APD, Community Standards and the Health Department to coordinate our responses to infractions. Please understand that we cannot share any details on individual Community Standards cases due to FERPA. We benefit from your continued support when you report infractions and support appropriate behavior. 

It will take the coordinated efforts of all of us to continue OHIO’s educational mission while keeping all communities connected to the University healthy and safe.  Please know that I hear many of your concerns and we are working hard to support OHIO’s health and safety. Please email specific questions, ideas and concerns to covidoperations@ohio.edu. My team and I will do our best to provide a timely response.

In closing, I thank you for your care for Ohio University, our staff, faculty, students, and communities. We are committed to maintaining transparency and collaboration since managing and eventually overcoming a pandemic will take a coordinated response. 

Sincerely, 

Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations

About my role

I work closely with other health professionals, including Chief Medical Affairs Officer Ken Johnson, as well as staff in Student Affairs, Housing and Residence Life, Facilities, the Registrar’s office, Finance and Administration, Legal Affairs, Institutional Effectiveness & Analytics, academic deans and myriad individuals across all of our campuses. 

I meet weekly with Athens City-County Health Department (ACCHD), and communicate with ACCHD daily. Because OHIO has a footprint in so many counties, I am also in touch with several other health departments. I meet regularly with the City of Athens, Athens Police Department and Ohio University Police Department.

Our team includes Jivanto van Hemert, the director of COVID case management and seven phenomenal case managers who also serve the university as resident directors. Their role is to help students and employees successfully learn or work from home when in isolation or quarantine, coordinating with campuses and colleges to respond to potential exposures and required absences. Researchers have greatly assisted with modeling potential spread of COVID on campus and anticipating the number of tests and isolation/quarantine rooms needed to meet a variety of different campus density scenarios. I am grateful to the work of Professors Vinny Just, Todd Young, Ani Ruhil, Zelalem Haile, and Rifat Haider. Dr. Ruhil continues to provide insight on strategies related to asymptomatic testing strategy. I am also grateful to Rebekah Crawford, Aggrey Otieno and Jackie Oteino for their assistance with health promotion.