Open letter from President Timothy Sands on university travel restrictions
The following is an open letter to the university community from Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands:
In recent months, there has been considerable national and international dialogue about the Ebola virus and how to prevent its spread from West Africa to other parts of the world. Many members of Virginia Tech's community, (faculty, staff and students) travel across the globe to carry out the university's mission of teaching, research and outreach. In addition, our campus serves as the educational home for several thousand undergraduate and graduate students from other lands. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the university to not only monitor conditions worldwide but also take proactive steps to limit our community's exposure to the Ebola virus.
I want to emphasize that there is very little risk of Ebola affecting Virginia Tech. To date, Virginia Tech has not identified any member of our community, or any visitor to campus, who is at risk for Ebola.
However, to ensure that the risk remains low, I have issued Presidential Policy Memorandum No. 288, effective immediately, that prohibits employees and students on university business from travelling to countries where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued Warning Level 3 Travel Warnings. This will apply across the board to all aspects of university programming, whether it be educational, research, or outreach. However, I will consider special exemptions for essential travel under extraordinary circumstances. The Office of the Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs will provide guidance about the process for requesting exceptions.
CDC Warning Level 3 is currently in place for the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone because of unprecedented outbreaks of Ebola. The CDC has urged all U.S. residents to avoid nonessential travel to those countries. (See http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices) Civil unrest and violence have been reported and the public health infrastructure is strained. In addition, we are concerned that it will be very difficult to evacuate someone for a medical emergency from affected countries.
Travel for personal reasons to countries under a Level 3 Travel Warning is strongly discouraged. Medical evacuation may not be available. Individuals who are symptomatic, whether they have been exposed to Ebola or not, will meet with significant challenges leaving these countries and face the risk of being quarantined with Ebola patients. Hosting visitors from countries with a CDC Level 3 Travel Warning is also strongly discouraged.
Under current Commonwealth of Virginia policy, anyone who travels to a country with a CDC Warning Level 3 will be required to follow Virginia Department of Health protocols upon their return to the Commonwealth. VDH has instituted an active monitoring policy, depending upon risk analysis, and will work through local health districts to make contact with identified travelers and provide them with specific guidance, information, and assistance.
Local health districts will coordinate daily contact with the travelers during the 21 days when there is a risk of infection. See the Virginia Department of Health website for further clarification of their protocols at www.vdh.state.va.us.
University departments which anticipate receiving anyone (students, guests, or visiting scholars) from a CDC Warning Level 3 designated country must inform the Office of the Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs no later than 30 days prior to arrival for further guidance, 540-231-3205.
Let me reiterate that there is very little risk of Ebola affecting Virginia Tech. However, we want to ensure the risk remains low, and we feel that erring on the side of caution is the best course of action for the Virginia Tech community. The unique nature of our campus with thousands of people living in close quarters makes this decision necessary.
Virginia Tech has infectious disease protocols in place, if needed. Those protocols were successfully used during recent outbreaks of H1N1 and SARS. University officials have been working with the Virginia Department of Health and others to improve or to ensure that we have the most up-to-date and effective protocols. In addition, university health professionals and emergency response personnel have received updated training.
Travel to other parts of West Africa should be carefully evaluated to account for possible disruption due to local country restrictions on incoming and outgoing visitors, even if those areas are not presently at risk of Ebola virus disease.
This is an excellent opportunity to remember the basic steps for preventing the spread of viruses. Following good hygiene, such as hand washing, and staying home if you are sick are the most important things you can do as well as consulting a health care professional when appropriate. In addition, members of the Virginia Tech community are encouraged to get a flu shot.
This is an ongoing situation and the university community is advised to stay informed by visiting the Office of Emergency Management website at www.emergency.vt.edu.
I trust that you will agree it wise to take these prudent measures to protect the university community.
Timothy D. Sands