Christian colleges prepare for flu pandemic

Across Canada, universities and colleges are preparing not just for classes, but also for a potential outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.

Schools need to be especially ready for the illness; the combination of so many people living and studying in the same place make them among the hardest-hit if an outbreak occurs.

Under the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan, all large institutions, including colleges and universities, are encouraged to have pandemic preparedness plans.

At some Canadian universities, student leaders are being trained to recognize symptoms of H1N1, and students are receiving letters advising them to bring their own hand sanitizer and thermometers to monitor their own temperatures.

Some university health centres have also stockpiled masks and gloves and set up phone lines for students to call if they are showing symptoms.

McGill University is preparing for the worst—a complete shutdown of the campus due to an outbreak. Professors are being asked to prepare lectures ahead of time to post online if they get sick, and the university has sent out notices to students telling them that the there may be course changes if the illness hits.

Meanwhile, the University of Toronto said it's preparing for as many as 15,000 students to get sick this fall or 30 percent of the school's population of 50,000 students.

Schools prepare

What about Christian schools? ChristianWeek contacted some Christian colleges and universities about their pandemic preparations, and received the following responses.

Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba has established a Crisis Management Team to deal with the crisis; the first meeting took place in mid-August and the agenda included how to keep students safe, what to do with sick students and how to cope if classes needed to be cancelled.

Tyndale University College in Toronto does not yet have a formal pandemic plan, but plans to provide updates to staff and students about the illness. Hand sanitizers have been set up all over campus, and common areas will receive more frequent cleanings. Students will be provided with small personal hand sanitizers and information about H1N1 when they arrive. No guidelines have yet been set for the cancellation of classes, but there is a plan in place to provide e-mail alerts in the event of an outbreak; staff who experience flu-like symptoms will be encouraged to stay at home.

At Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, the president appointed an Influenza Response Committee in May. The goal was to develop responses and possible recommendations in preparation for a potential H1N1 pandemic. A full pandemic plan is not yet in place, but some measures have already been agreed on, such as stockpiling masks, putting hand sanitizer stations around campus and discontinuing the use of common tea towels in staff lounges. A more detailed set of plans was to be developed in August.

King's University College in Edmonton has guidelines for dealing with an outbreak of illness on its campus, but does not have a pandemic plan. Student Life staff and senior management met in August to examine how they would respond if a pandemic hit. Plans call for providing basic information on recognizing an outbreak and procedures to follow for residence directors and assistants; they are considering adding additional stations.

Bethany College in Hepburn, Saskatchewan has been preparing for the last couple years for various types of health concerns. This includes a rigorous cleaning regimen for all of its buildings; there are also hand sanitizers in all public washrooms. Although it doesn't have a specific pandemic plan, residence assistants are trained to be aware of cold and flu symptoms. If an outbreak occurs they have the ability to quarantine sections of the dorm and washrooms for those who are sick.

Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario has a draft pandemic plan, including provision of general H1N1 information and personal hygiene and other measures to guard against the risk of infection. It also calls for training for faculty, staff and students, especially residence student leaders, departmental response plans and provision of hand sanitizers. Students will receive a purse/pocket-sized hand sanitizer from when they register.

Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta already has a communicable diseases policy in place, due partly to a student becoming sick with the Norwalk virus last year. The plan details exactly how Prairie will respond if there is an outbreak, including how it will work closely with local and provincial health authorities.

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada and Making the News Canada