Statement by USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman on Novel Coronavirus Preparation

Baltimore, Md. (March 6, 2020)As you know, we received word last night that three people in Maryland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. All three are residents of Montgomery County; all three contracted the virus during overseas travel; all three are in good condition and are at home; and as far as we know, none has a direct connection to the University System. Our thoughts are with those affected, and we wish them a full recovery.

Gov. Hogan has declared a State of Emergency, and the General Assembly is moving fast to approve $50 million in funding to help Maryland deal with this threat.

I have been in touch this morning with the USM presidents and regional center directors to review guidance we have received from our experts, to understand any unique needs they have on their campuses, to solicit their advice, and to reaffirm the System’s support.

Following this consultation with campus leaders and public health experts, I am asking all USM institutions to do two things. First, I am asking them to inventory and test their capacity to have employees telework and to carry on all instructional activities electronically. That means ensuring that online teaching platforms and resources are available for immediate—and perhaps sustained—use. It means dry-runs of all of their systems, servers, and networks to make sure high volume does not impede function or performance. And it means making sure that students, faculty, and staff have the equipment and connectivity they need to learn and work from home.

The University System is not canceling classes or shutting down offices at this time. I am simply advising campuses to verify that they can go to an online environment quickly should the need arise.

I am also asking our universities and regional centers to reduce, where possible, gatherings of a substantial number of people. We are emphasizing social distancing, meaning that we advise against any non-essential in-person meetings. For essential meetings, we recommend they be held in an environment where social distancing can be achieved. The best advice for social distancing is six feet between each individual, and an assurance that no one in the room has symptoms of a fever or upper respiratory infection, or has had known exposure to a high-risk COVID-19 situation. 

Where large gatherings can be canceled, postponed, or taken to an online environment, that is what I am asking campus leaders to consider. “Large gatherings” include ceremonies, sports events, symposia, concerts, even large seminar classes. I am not issuing a mandate, but I am advising that we be smart, and apply our best judgment to a situation that is changing hourly.

With USM university and center leaders, we are developing university protocols surrounding student health needs, distance learning, and travel—and we will share these in the coming days. Additionally, we are redoubling efforts to sanitize campuses.

Many university leaders have taken part in Systemwide exercises focused on maintaining continuity of operations; the tabletop session at UMB on Wednesday was especially productive. I think this is one of those times when you see the enormous advantage in being part of a system as strong as USM.

We are continually updating our USM website to share new information, policies, and protocols: Additionally, I am in touch with the Governor’s Office and with key state leaders as this situation changes. I will share updated information as we adapt our response accordingly.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719