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March 15 update: Changes to campus staffing for COVID-19

The following message was sent March 12 to all UW-Eau Claire and UW-Eau Claire – Barron County students, faculty and staff:

As I have said before, the health of our faculty, staff and students is our highest priority. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are increasingly being urged to practice social distancing and observe good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. UW system has announced that it is suspending its policy on short-term telecommuting to give campuses the most flexibility to enable employees to work from home. Under Governor Evers’ emergency declaration, all K-12 school districts are closing at the end of the day on Wednesday, in part to provide time to best identify ways to handle the impact on families and teachers.

In support of the many efforts to keep the level of infection low, we are now developing a minimum staffing model that will make it possible for as many people as possible to work from home, while still having enough people on campus to support our faculty, staff and students. I am announcing the following actions for the next few days:

  • If you have an existing health care condition or a vulnerable person at home that puts you or them at greater risk for the COVID-19 virus, please plan to work from home, beginning Monday. We want you safe. Advise your supervisor if you need to do so.
  • On Monday, unit directors will meet with campus leadership to determine minimum staffing levels to have as few people working on campus as necessary. This will make it safer for those whose job requires them to be on campus as well as those who are working remotely. The directors will work with supervisors and others to determine which staff members are needed on campus as well as those able to work from home. They will identify equipment that may be needed for those working at home and ways we can modify the workplace to permit adequate spacing between individuals, to minimize contact and to enhance our cleaning of key areas. Your supervisor will communicate directly with you once decisions are made on Monday.
  • Until April 20, all nonessential committee and employee meetings should be suspended. Those that can be conducted by phone or video may continue. Committee chairs, or directors and academic chairs can make the determination.

I realize that these actions are happening on short notice, but the rapidly changing impact of the virus means that we will be making decisions that will apply for hours or days, not for weeks. For that I ask your patience and flexibility. Our goal is to assure that all faculty, staff and students are healthy and that we are responding in responsible ways to a challenge that is new for all of us.

At the same time, the UW System, the Governor’s Office and the State Legislature may provide further direction. We are monitoring and communicating with them and will advise you when we know more. My intention is to make it possible for as many people to work from home as is feasible, while still assuring the students, faculty and staff who remain on campus are supported. I want to reassure the students who have chosen to remain on campus that you will have the residential and food service support you need in the coming weeks.

This is an unprecedented situation. I have gotten many emails over the past few days from students who will no longer be able to perform, athletes who have worked at their sport their entire lives only to have national championships cancelled, and faculty and staff who have been forced to change travel and research plans at short notice. We will look back on this time as a milestone in the history of our university and nation. It is my hope that we will use this challenge to come together, to look after each other and to bring out the best in who we are. Together, we will take one day at a time and give our best.

James C. Schmidt
Chancellor, UW-Eau Claire