Western Oregon University Takes a Proactive Approach to Potential Coronavirus Threat

The picture includes the backside of the Werner University Center and the backside of Todd Hall. Red flowers are seen alongside the bottom of the photograph, surrounded by green grass.
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Taking easy steps like washing your hands can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Benjamin Franklin’s advice that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” describes Western Oregon University’s diligent approach to preparing and planning if there is a case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on campus or a nearby community.

“As with any potential threat to our campus, we are monitoring the situation very closely, and we are in contact with federal, state and local authorities,” WOU Campus Public Safety Director Rebecca Chiles said. “We are being proactive, and we are getting ready for what could happen so we are prepared for each stage.”

Chiles along with WOU Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC) Director Beth Scroggins are the co-incident commanders for the team that has been working since January to assess the campus response.

Scroggins said the university’s COVID-19 webpage is a good resource for students and employees to learn about the virus, keep informed about campus happenings and more. If there is breaking news, Chiles said a WOU Alert and email will be sent. Both Chiles and Scroggins advised students and employees to make sure to update their WOU Alert settings in their Portal to indicate the preferred contact methods for emergency notifications.

“We will communicate with our campus community as we receive information about COVID-19,” Chiles said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 spreads through person-to-person contact (within about 3 to 6 feet) by respiratory droplets or contaminated hands as a result of coughing, sneezing or touching an object that has the virus on it then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes.

As of March 3, the CDC reported 80 total cases of the CODID-19 coronavirus in 13 states, and nine people have died. Three Oregonians have tested positive for the virus.

It’s estimated the virus lives on surfaces for 30 minutes. Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever of more than 100.4℉ (38℃), runny nose, coughing, sore throat or shortness of breath.

Person holding smart phone
If you are not feeling well, please call the WOU Student Health and Counseling Center before going there. This preventative measure is to stop the spread of any virus or cold.

For the health and safety of the WOU community, Scroggins is asking students who are experiencing flu-like symptoms not to visit the SHCC in person. Instead, students should call one of the following numbers for triage:

  • SHCC at 503-838-8313
  • Polk County Public Health at 503-623-8175
  • Call 211 or text 898-211
  • Call 911 if you’re experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

“We don’t want people coming directly to the student health center if they are sick because if they do have the virus, they could infect everyone in the waiting room and the building,” Scroggins said. “By calling first, we can triage the situation to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Scroggins said the SHCC doesn’t test for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Instead, the testing is done by Polk County Public Health and processed by the Oregon Health Authority.

When evaluating if it’s COVID-19 or another cold or virus, people should consider if they have traveled to or from affected areas in the past 14 days. Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure. The infection can range from mild to serious. The virus can become deadly if it leads to pneumonia, respiratory failure or septic shock. Those most at risk of death are the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Chiles said if students have concerns about having the virus, she encourages them to call Campus Public Safety, open 24-hours a day, at 503-838-8481.

Both Chiles and Scroggins emphasized good hygiene such as handwashing along with coughing or sneezing into your elbow will go a long way to preventing the spread of any cold or virus.

“So far, the virus doesn’t always manifest as severe symptoms for people of college age and younger children,” Chiles said. “That population can spread the virus to someone who has underlying health conditions that might compromise their immune system. We all need to take this virus seriously and be courteous of others.”


Because the symptoms of COVID-19 and a cold virus are similar, people may not know if they have one or the other.

To help prevent a coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are infected.

You treat a COVID-19 infection the same way you treat a cold:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids
  • Take over-the-counter medicine for a sore throat and fever. But don’t give aspirin to children or teens younger than 19; use ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead. A humidifier or a steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.

If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.

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