Gilbert encourages students to remain on campus

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While some universities are evacuating, Marshall University President Jerry Gilbert recommends students who live in residence halls remain on campus. 

As part of Marshall’s plan to combat the COVID-19 virus, Gilbert said the university has provisions for isolating students who may become infected. 

“We’re going to open up Holderby Hall and quarantine students in there as they become infected, if they don’t go home,” he said. 

One reason residence halls and dining facilities will remain open on campus is to accommodate homeless and international students. 

“Some other schools are forcing the students to leave, and some of the things that we thought about, I know we have at least one or two homeless students that are in school, so forcing them to leave would put them out on the streets,” Gilbert said. “I know that there are many students that are international students, and if we put them out, where were they going to go? We also have students that if we were to require them not to come back to the residence hall until we go back to face-to-face that they may not have easy access to the internet.”

Marshall has a webpage with announcements and cancellations concerning the coronavirus, and there is an email that students can contact if they have questions about the virus. The webpage is marshall.edu/covid19, and the email is [email protected]

If students suspect they may have been exposed, Gilbert said they are recommended to contact Student Health. The purpose of the phone triage is to prevent potentially infected people from showing up in emergency rooms or doctor’s offices unannounced.

“They will describe to Student Health what their symptoms are, and if it is consistent with what could be coronavirus, they will send someone to wherever they are— I assume they’d be in the residence hall at that point,” Gilbert said. “If they’re just in town, then we would make arrangements for them to meet in the emergency room and be ushered in. But if they’re on campus, we would have them stay in the residence hall; we’d send someone to them.

“So with all those things in consideration, I decided that we should allow our students to stay in the residence hall if they wanted to.”

The university response team, consisting of experts from health and food safety, culinary and facilities operations, human resources and supply management, is monitoring the situation. Dr. Larry Dial, Marshall’s chief medical officer, and the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine are also working closely to keep up to date on information, Gilbert said. 

“Having a medical school is a great advantage for a university like WVU or Marsahll, because we have medical experts, and we have the best healthcare that you can get here versus a school that doesn’t have a medical school associated with it,” Gilbert said.

The university is dealing with cancellations and postponements one or two weeks out, which means there is currently no plan to cancel commencement in May. Gilbert said he is trying to be as optimistic as he can, and he hopes to return to face-to-face classes in April.

“I’m hopeful that when the warmer weather comes that we will see a decline,” he said. “And I think a lot of the actions that have been taken will slow down the spread… I’m very hopeful and have my fingers crossed that we can return back to face to face for the last two weeks of classes; that would allow us to do some of the labs that difficult to do at a distance and also have some quality time with the students back in the classroom before the end of the semester.”

With Drinko Library and food services remaining open, Gilbert said he is hoping to maintain a sense of normalcy going forward. 

“It’s a very unfortunate period that we’re in right now, and it’s a time to stay strong and to not overly panic in any way,” he said. “Be assured that we’re trying to do the best we can to keep (students) safe and the campus safe and to continue an educational experience for our students. And we know that it’s not going to be the same but we’re going to do our best. We’re not in this alone many other; most other universities in the country are in the same situation. It’s a difficult time for us all to go through and we realize it’s difficult for them and difficult for their families, but we’re going to try our best to minimize the inconvenience to them as much as we can, while keeping them safe.”

Gilbert said he wants to remind students to practice good hygiene and promote social distancing to maintain a safe campus.

Amanda Larch can be contacted at [email protected]