After returning to campus in-person for the fall semester, Pacific has implemented specific guidelines and safety measures to result in better COVID-19 statistics than the state of Oregon.
When COVID-19 first became a threat in February, a task force was created to ensure the safety of students and staff. Within this staff were Ann Barr-Gillespie, the executive dean of the College of Health Professions, and Amy Rasmuussen, the Business Continuity Emergency Manager, both fulfilling the position of Chair and Co-Chair [respectively] of the University COVID-19 Preparedness and Planning Task Force. With their knowledge of health care and emergency management, Barr-Gillespie feels that they are the right combination for the task force that is responsible for keeping the university going in the midst of a pandemic–interpreting information from government declarations and keeping everyone safe.
“The response culture is so different at Pacific. It’s less like a busy command post and more like gathering your family around the table and figuring out, ‘How are we going to take care of all of our loved ones?’ Our response isn’t spread thin in the fact that everyone cares about everyone, so we’re all there supporting each other,” Rasmussen said when comparing her new career at Pacific to her previous work.
Over the course of the pandemic, Barr-Gillespie and Rasmussen have been challenged with what they call an “ongoing” emergency, meaning that there is always something new. Today, their biggest challenge is managing the detection of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, as well as dealing with isolation measures properly. Since the beginning, Barr-Gillespie said that students and maintaining operations have been the main focus so that students can progress in their studies.
When asked why Pacific is standing out from other universities, Barr-Gillespie and Rasmussen both believed it to be the swiftness of the task force and the student body’s response to the COVID guidelines.
“We really wanted this to be an educational program, not a punitive, authoritarian program. We want to focus on people taking personal responsibility and modeling that with our faculty and our staff,” Barr-Gillespie said. “Our expectations of our students were high, and they have all met our expectations. It’s not a surprise; it’s just awesome.”
Some positive aspects have come from the restrictions of COVID-19 on campus.
“We have students in the health professions who are getting quite the education about being a health professional in the midst of all of this. There’s nothing like a pandemic to teach you the importance of health and safety practices, public health, as well as how to shift your thinking from being a person who thinks primarily about themselves to a health professional who thinks primarily about the health of the people you serve,” Barr-Gillespie said.
At the end of the day, the task force understands the struggles that are being created within the guidelines and COVID restrictions, but they encourage students to continue following the precautions.
“Our population is doing better than the population of Oregon because our students are doing an amazing job following the guidelines. Right now, you are safer at Pacific than you are in the community, and I would like to thank the students for making that possible,” Barr-Gillespie said. — Chandler Fleming
Photo: Pacific University has implemented a host of new protocols in the wake of COVID-19, such as wearing masks on campus, and so far, they seem to be working. (Chandler Fleming)