According to recent studies, the world is heading rapidly toward a pandemic. The United States Department of Health and Human Services defines a pandemic as a “global disease outbreak.” If realized, the expected pandemic will severely affect the nation’s colleges and universities. The anticipated pandemic of concern, referred to as the “avian” or “bird flu,” has its origins in Asia. This strain of the flu may enter the United States through the ports of San Francisco or Los Angeles because of the close economic and cultural ties both of these large metropolitan areas have with countries on the Pacific Rim—this, of course, includes a large portion of Asia.
In a recent briefing to chief student affairs officers of the California State University, Senior Director of Systemwide Risk Management Charlene Minnick reported that a flu virus will mutate approximately 10 times before it can be transmitted from its animal host to humans. Interestingly, the virus strain of concern has mutated five times in the past 11 months. Although it is impossible to determine precisely when Southern California might experience its initial episodes with this deadly flu virus, we can assume that it will be the younger cohorts within the population, to include preschoolers through middle school children, who will be among the first to be affected by the virus in large numbers.
CSULB, along with the 23 other CSU campuses, is busy developing detailed plans on how to cope with the pandemic in advance, in the initial stages and beyond. According to Minnick, the last worldwide pandemic occurred in 1918-19 and was called the “Spanish Flu” because of the widely perceived notion that it began in Spain. However, Minnick suggested that the pandemic actually began at an army base in Kansas and was transported to Spain by American troops who were shipped to Europe as a result of World War I.
In developing its plan, the CSULB administration will need to consider the impact the pandemic will have on students and members of the campus work force as well as business establishments, local school districts and public service entities in the local community. If the pandemic proceeds according to a worst case scenario, the university will need to implement effective actions to limit the necessity for large groups to gather. The university also may need to consider offering more courses through BeachBoard and instructional TV to minimize the person-to-person contact that enhances the spread of this type of virus.
In developing its plan, the administration at CSULB will need to consider the impact the pandemic will have on students and members of the campus work force as well as business establishments, local school districts and public service entities in the local community.
The university may also need to consider closing campus eateries and the residence halls. In addition, the two campus-based child care centers will be a major focus for attention and intervention within CSULB’s plan. Student Health Services will be a key campus agency in addressing any flu outbreak and will maintain an up-to-date Web site with suggestions on how to cope should an individual become affected by the flu. Tips on how to avoid being infected by the flu also will be made available through the university’s Web site.
Although a pandemic will cause disruptions in the way of life for people everywhere, the ability to manage such a crisis today is much better than ever before. Vastly improved communication channels, including the Internet and around-the-clock news networks, along with proper planning at the federal, state and local levels, may serve to reduce the severity of the anticipated pandemic.
Finally, CSULB’s ability to successfully manage a large scale pandemic of this nature will largely depend on our ability to work cooperatively in developing a comprehensive institutional plan. Once developed, all aspects of the plan must be effectively communicated to all members of the campus community in an expedient manner.—Douglas W. Robinson, Vice President for Student Services