Campus Leaders Host Virtual Town Hall on Health and Safety

Campus leaders reviewed some of the steps Georgia Tech is taking to encourage the safety of students, faculty, and staff who will be on campus this summer and fall.
A face covering should be worn around other people at work or in class, and in stores or crowded areas.

A face covering should be worn around other people at work or in class, and in stores or crowded areas.

Several campus leaders gathered virtually on June 9 for an online town hall on health and safety. Presenters for the session were Benjamin Holton, senior director of Stamps Health Services; Nazia Zakir, assistant vice president of Environmental Health and Safety; and Kasey Helton, associate vice president of Campus Services. Rachael Pocklington, senior specialist in marketing communications for Institute Communications, moderated the event.

Pocklington opened the virtual town hall by inviting participants to ask questions and voice their concerns via chat. The event is part of an ongoing effort to keep the community informed about campus operations.

“On May 28, we shared details about Tech’s plan to ramp up on-campus operations over the summer in anticipation of a return to in-person learning this fall,” Pocklington said. “We intend to move forward safely, responsibly, and compassionately. We recognize that many are understandably anxious about how this may be accomplished, and we will provide you with as much information as possible to lessen the uncertainty.”

Each presenter reviewed some of the steps Georgia Tech is taking to encourage the safety of students, faculty, and staff who will be on campus this summer and fall. This includes limiting the number of people in classrooms and meeting spaces, providing masks and hand sanitizer, and adjusting employee work schedules to minimize physical contact. View the full archived presentation at c.gatech.edu/jun9-healthsafety.

Virtual Q&A

The presenters fielded questions from viewers, some submitted in advance and others in real time. Here is a sampling.

Are there plans for testing to be available? And, can you explain how contact tracing works?

Benjamin Holton: Georgia Tech has a strategy for testing that involves two different mechanisms. One is a research lab at Georgia Tech that has developed a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for the diagnosis of Covid-19. That research lab is now applying for the certification necessary for it to function as a medical diagnostic lab. It would have the capacity to conduct between 300 and 400 tests per day, and their plan is to do that testing on saliva samples which is not quite as invasive as nasal swabs. The lab will be the mechanism through which Georgia Tech does testing for staff and also the mechanism through which it will do surveillance or screening for hot spots on campus.

Contact tracing is the process by which those who have had contact with an identified case are notified and instructed to quarantine themselves. That is an important part of interrupting the transmission chain. We will be working with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop a process for contact tracing for campus.

Can you tell us how you’re planning to reduce the density of the population on campus, particularly in the dining halls?  

Kasey Helton: We hope to accomplish that by increasing the pickup locations for meals. We want people to understand that you can get the same food and have the same access to variety in any of these locations. We’re also working on a more robust online application similar to what we did this summer where you can order your food in advance and arrange a remote pickup. It’s not necessarily delivered to your front door, but there will be some remote pickup locations so that you won’t have to come into the building and get your food.

Also, the number of food trucks will increase, and those will be spread out across campus so you don’t have to go to a single location. Dining halls will restrict the number of spaces available for seating. We’re also increasing the outdoor seating spaces so that there are more options for people to relax and enjoy their meal without being crowed inside a specific eating area.  

We have received quite a few questions regarding plans for keeping the campus clean. Can you speak about the disinfectant protocols in place and any potential changes moving forward?  

Nazia Zakir: Facilities Management has been doing enhanced cleaning since the coronavirus episode started. They are doing a lot more cleaning of the high touch point areas such as door handles, elevator buttons, and railings in stairwell. They will continue to do that, and there will be a cleaning schedule for each building so then everyone will have an idea of how frequently it is being done in your building. And, we use disinfectants that have been approved by the EPA to safeguard against emerging pathogens.  

Can you help clarify the differences between a cloth-based covering and a surgical mask?

Zakir: A cloth facial covering can be washed and reused. This is what is recommended by the CDC for us to wear when we are around other people at work or in stores or crowded areas. Surgical masks are single use masks that you are not supposed to reuse. Wear it for one day and throw it away. So, a cloth facial covering is much more sustainable in the long run.