Northern Michigan University preparing for students’ return
This is earlier than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic; by starting classes earlier, students can finish the semester by Thanksgiving. This means they don’t have to travel home, then return to complete the semester, therefore cutting down on travel time and increasing safety.
In the meantime, preparations are underway for the return of students in a time where health and safety precautions will be far different than in the past.
Northern Michigan University has relied heavily on internal Information Technology support to streamline several procedures associated with returning to campus in the context of COVID-19.
There are several IT projects nestled under the umbrella of the “Passport to Campus” event being held for several days before the semester at the Northern Center. NMU students, faculty and staff are asked to reserve a time slot for COVID-19 molecular testing.
They will also receive two complimentary NMU-branded face coverings during the appointment and other items relevant to school or work.
Chris Danik, senior programmer/analyst, said there was a great deal of complexity related to scheduling that he and other staff members faced.
“Some groups, like athletes and testing volunteers, have to come in sooner than others,” Danik said in a news release.
It was challenging.
“We built the housing component first,” said. “We had to figure out who’s in the same house and schedule it so only five students per house were checking in every three hours to prevent everyone from passing each other before they move in. For students traveling from a certain distance, we had to work them into evening time slots.
“We also had to factor how many tests the lab can accept per day. In general, we broke each hour block into 10-minute intervals. Meshing all of those things and integrating data from all the different systems was complex. But we were able to complete it in about a month.”
Before their scheduled Passport to Campus appointments, members of the NMU community will receive a text link to a responsive web page that will guide them through the process. They will be instructed to send a text indicating that they have arrived in the Northern Center parking lot near the bookstore entrance and will wait in their vehicles until receiving a return text to make their way into the building. This will eliminate congestion at the check-in desk on the ground floor.
After checking in, they will proceed upstairs to the Northern Center ballrooms for their COVID-19 tests and then to nearby rooms to pick up relevant items such as their university-issued laptops, housing keys, ID cards and parking passes.
“Everything’s all consolidated to be able to really get them all set up to start with classes,” NMU Fritz Erickson said before Thursday’s NMU Board of Trustees meeting where it learned more about the Passport to Campus program.
Danik also wrote a program that pulls directory information from the university’s Banner system to pre-fill the form that must accompany each COVID-19 molecular test, as required by the Chicago lab providing the analysis and results. NMU has whittled down the time required for test and data entry from 20 minutes to five minutes.
Other projects Danik’s team was involved in were: a shopping cart-style system for ordering PPE on campus and an online attestation employees must complete before returning to work, indicating they understand their rights and responsibilities regarding safety protocols during the pandemic.
Danik and colleague Chris Lewis, director of technology support services, built the technology pieces required for a major modification to the orientation program, which shifted to a virtual format over the summer. Bill Richards, senior project manager, coordinated the effort.
“They had orientation registration open since October, but decided in May to transition freshman in-person sessions into three virtual phases,” Danik said. “There was a meeting with a group leader on Zoom, self-paced Moodle modules and an individual Zoom session with an adviser. We had to write a quick feature for group leaders to mark attendance for phase one, which triggered access to the courses in phase two.”
He noted that normally there are six to seven group sessions, but that basically doubled in order to make the capacity more manageable on Zoom.
Danik said Garrett Taylor, programmer/analyst I, and Brian Larson, director of enterprise software, assisted NMU Disability Services with a project. They developed a way to quickly indicate to faculty which students on their class rosters qualify for a mask exemption or remote learning accommodation.
Special coating used
NMU facilities staff members are applying a unique antimicrobial coating with hospital-grade disinfectant to high-touch areas on campus. The product creates an impenetrable barrier that permanently bonds to any surface and retains its full strength in providing reactive protection against microorganisms, including the coronavirus.
According to its description, MicrobeCare destroys the cell wall of microorganisms that land on a protected surface, immediately disrupting their growth and ability to reproduce. It is guaranteed non-toxic and will not wear or wash off once applied. MicrobeCare is not a replacement for routing cleaning, but will make that process more efficient and effective.
NMU facilities staff became aware of the product from a peer institution, conducted thorough research on it and arranged for an on-campus demo.
“It’s a good way to provide blanket coverage that is not harmful,” said Brandon Sager, NMU assistant director of facilities building services and sustainability, in a news release. “Staff members are wearing PPE while they spray it as a precaution, but once it dries, it does not pose any danger. Even though it destroys bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and yeast on contact, it can’t leach into skin. It is also odorless.”
A select group of facilities staff is applying the coating to high-use areas on campus using an electrostatic sprayer. The work has already been completed in “Priority A” areas such as classrooms, bathrooms, door handles, elevators, common areas and recreational equipment.
The remainder of spaces, including department office areas and individual office light switches and door handles, will be completed before the fall semester begins on Aug. 17.
Each NMU department office is also being provided with a Hygeia Aqueous Ozone spray bottle to sanitize their areas on a daily basis. The water-based, chemical-free product kills 99.9% or more of bacteria and common viruses within 30 seconds.
Other measures taken
NMU is reconfiguring most classrooms to align with 6-foot social distancing guidelines and installing plexiglass barriers in others to enhance student safety in advance of the semester.
In the lecture-style classrooms with tiered seating and fixed tables, barriers are being affixed in front of each seat to provide separation between the rows. In fixed auditoriums such as Jamrich auditorium, there will be markers for where students can and can’t sit, with the capacity of that room reduced from 500 to 130.
The university also has implemented a centralized ordering and distribution system for PPE to obtain bulk quantities of critical COVID-19-related items at a significant cost reduction.
NMU has ordered 250,000 gloves for the coming academic year in response to COVID-19.
It has also obtained 250 touchless, NMU-branded hand-sanitizing stations for common areas, vestibules and elevators, with more on order. Other PPE being purchased in bulk include wipes, gowns, face shields and N95 respirators.
NMU is partnering with Fisher Scientific in the effort, as well as Kimberly-Clark, a partner of Fisher Scientific, which sponsors a RightCycle recycling program for single-use nitrile gloves.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.