According to University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences Dean Anna Maria Siega-Riz, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, “We were in shock and had no concept of how long our shutdown would go on for. Our first response was to ensure the degree progression of our students and support high-quality teaching through remote technology.”
The focus on health and safety of the campus community ramped up as they started planning for a return to campus for a select groups of students and courses that had to be delivered face to face in 2020–21. During this planning process, the school contributed in expertise and time to developing protocols and procedures for the reopening of the campus, including masking-campaign ads, contact tracing efforts, development of a COVID dashboard and serving on campus advisory boards.
Aimee Gilbert Loinaz, SPHHS assistant director for internships and employer engagement and UMass Amherst’s manager of student contact tracing programs, led student contact tracing teams to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in their communities. The contact tracing effort involved over 100 student volunteers, who also used social media messaging to promote health and COVID-19 safety. Says Dean Seiga-Riz, contributions to the university’s asymptomatic testing and contact tracing efforts helped turn the UMass Amherst Public Health Promotion Center into “one of the largest and most efficient COVID detection and prevention programs in the state.”
She adds, “We developed a very strong and comprehensive public health response that not only served our campus, but also the surrounding communities. We are using this model as an example of how local public health agencies can work together. In addition, key leaders on campus are now working together to promote the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff. We are taking steps to join the Okanagan Charter to be a health-promoting university.”