While Loyola students have experienced the university’s COVID-19 precautions — such as guest policies, mask-wearing and contact tracing — they might not be familiar with the administrators who coordinate these policies.
Loyola established an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in spring of 2020 to handle unexpected COVID-related interruptions to normal operations at the university. The ERP consists of eight separate committees that work in coordination with each other to come up with the best policies for the student body and faculty.
This means that rather than having a single committee responsible for responding to
pandemic-related issues, administrators across different departments — including the Office of the President, the Wellness Center and individual professors — have worked collaboratively to maintain student life on campus under the pressures of COVID-19.
The Phoenix spoke with Loyola administrators who are responsible for handling the university’s response to COVID-19.
While not all the section leaders were available for an interview, according to Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach,The Phoenix was able to speak with three individuals who are a part of the ERP.
The different committees work individually on discussing their respective topics and then report to the Management, Policy and Command Committee to make a final decision.
The other committees include Planning and Intelligence, Academic Continuity, Campus Continuity, Student Recruitment and Retention, Constituency Engagement, Finance and Administration, and Logistics.
For the past 21 years, Phil Hale has been the Vice President for Government Affairs at Loyola. Under the ERP plan, he has taken on the role of being the chief for the Planning and Intelligence section.
Hale said the tasks of his previous position at the university prepared him well for the work he has undertaken as a section chief of the Planning and Intelligence Committee.
“It was a kind of natural extension of my job,” Hale said.
He describes the role of the section is to “develop as much information as we can from public sources.” Hale has corresponded with the Illinois governor’s office as well as the Illinois Board of Higher Education to discuss their aims when it comes to restrictions and mandates about COVID-19 and education. This can include information about testing, mask wearing, vaccinations, COVID-19 positivity rates, and COVID-19 hot spots.
“The contacts that I’ve developed over a period of time and the relationships that I’ve developed have been extremely helpful in navigating the section,” Hale said. “I was not a public health expert, so involving the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health was essential.”
He said Loyola’s COVID-19 response throughout the pandemic has been largely based on preexisting government guidelines. Much of the information Loyola relies upon comes from the national National Incident Management System (NIMS) protocols.
The NIMS protocols were established by the federal government to manage national emergencies. The system was first developed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help guide its responses to different crises. Hale said these guidelines influence the ways Loyola’s administration constructs safe ways to have students back on campus.
Hale also said his section compiles weekly public health information from across the country into the weekly Health, Safety, and Well-Being Updates that students receive over email. This includes news about progress in vaccinations as well as updates on how other universities across the country are handling the pandemic.
Joan Holden is the Director of the Wellness Center and has been working at the university for 21 years. Before her time at Loyola, Holden worked at Rush University, another private institution in the Chicago area.
Holden said her role in Loyola’s COVID-19 response is to inform the Management, Policy and Command Committee (MPC) about the best health practices that should be adopted for the university.
When the pandemic began, Holden said she helped coordinate the creation of a healthcare advisory committee. This committee, she said, “helps to inform the management policy committees and these key decisions, such as masking, testing, vaccines and so on.”
Holden said there are numerous public health experts on this committee including members from the School of Nursing, Stritch School of Medicine, and a professor of infectious diseases.
Holden said over the course of the pandemic, there have been numerous challenges to overcome. She said at the beginning of the outbreak, the MPC met everyday to discuss COVID-19 related issues. She said over time, the different committees within the ERP learned how to maximize their resources and use them more wisely.
When asked if she thought that the ERP has been an efficient way of making COVID-19 decisions at Loyola, Holden said “I think that it was well thought out. “I think it offers input from lots of different camps and partners, so in my opinion it has been successful.”
The Management, Policy, and Command Committee (MPC) consists of the most senior administrative positions in the university, including the President Jo Ann Rooney, as well as the Vice Presidents and Provost.
Kelly said he was assigned as executive of the ERP many years ago, which means he’s responsible for organizing Loyola’s response to any emergency on campus. Most of the time, this has meant facilities — or technology-related emergencies, he said. But in March 2020, Loyola’s ERP shifted gears as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency.
When Loyola’s emergency response to COVID-19 began, Kelly said he thought it would just involve getting students who were studying abroad back home. But the pandemic, and subsequently the ERP, continued to grow in both size and complexity.
“When it began, there were probably six or seven or eight of us making decisions,” Kelly said. “And fast forward six months or so there were probably a couple hundred.”
Kelly said he realized the ERP needed to expand and take advantage of Loyola’s public health and science expertise, and involved university members such as Holden.
“I don’t think we had envisioned that in our prior thinkings on emergency response,” Kelly said. “We had to have this tailored to this specific emergency.”
Loyola’s ERP also worked with Loyola’s academic departments and involved public health experts, which Kelly said helped the committee make informed decisions regarding issues such as mask policies and learning when vaccinations will be available.
“What’s the best information, best advice we could get about the number of people allowed in residence halls?” Kelly said. “That information would come from the Health and Safety group to the rest of the committees.”
The pandemic’s emergency response was different from the “normal” planning and intelligence required for a fire or technology disruption, Kelly said. Committee members were searching for pandemic-related information “anywhere and everywhere,” whether that be public health experts, governmental agencies or the websites of other colleges and universities.
All the necessary groups and experts were already at Loyola, but responding to a pandemic required “pulling them together” and working collaboratively with one another, Kelly said.