Every year during Lent I go on a social media fast. Lent this year was Wednesday, February 26th. I was heading to Washington DC for the 4th annual Republican HBCU Fly In (which really has been more bipartisan the past 3 years).
February 26th was also the day where the first US case of coronavirus of unknown origin was reported, in California. As I read the reports I sent an email to our Threat Assessment Management team that it was time to get into action.
Within the next week we were sending out campus notices about what this was, and how to prevent the spread. The US Department of Education released guidelines that Wednesday, March 5th. That afternoon, I was back in DC for the annual UNCF meeting, and I had to teach my class on line. It was a preview that I didn’t recognize.
Within a few days the first universities started to cancel in person classes. In fact, the first case in Louisiana was on March 9th. By March 11th, the 3rd Wednesday in Lent, the number of places going on line started to escalate. So on March 11th, we too decided to go on line, ending face to face classes on March 18th, with March 19th and 20th test dates for being fully on line and working out the wrinkles. It was also on that day that Mayor Latoya Cantrell declares a state of emergency for COVID-19.
But the numbers kept growing, and then both city and state governments began to implement new guidelines for institutions and people in general, including limiting the size of gatherings. I tried to communicate to our community that we’re all in this together, and would have to be available to help others struggling. I heard a great segment on MSNBC that I shared with everyone.
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I started sending almost daily updates to our Board of Trustees. The city’s college and university presidents had several calls and numerous e-mails, as well as two calls with the Mayor. By that weekend cities were taking steps to shut down their operations, and President Trump mentioned in two press conferences that domestic travel could be impacted. That led to parents sending e-mails asking can they get their students home immediately.
Then the Governor closed all the schools for 4 weeks on March 13th. That was a game changer.
We moved the last day of face to face to March 18th. Worry continued and we ended face to face on Monday, with Tuesday as a travel day for those who wanted to get out. Employees were given policies for telework.
And now the 4th Wednesday of Lent finds me conducting cabinet meetings via Zoom. Social distancing is a new term in our lexicon. And I have no idea how long any of this will last. None of us do.
So I will spend more time writing, trying to chronicle this journey from my perspective as president of Dillard University. And sample the title from Dr. Dre’s classic “The Chronic” to tell my Coronavirus Chronicles.
As my wife says, we’re all going to be different after this crisis. I’m going to try to chronicle the changes.