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APPA COVID-19 Message Following the March 20, 2020 APPA Town Hall

headshot of Lander Medlin

An occasional blogpost from Lander Medlin, APPA’s Executive Vice President


COVID-19 Message Following the March 20, 2020 APPA Town Hall

March 23, 2020 — Thank you to the 1,100-plus participants who joined Friday’s Town Hall Meeting – Sharing Emerging Practices on COVID-19 and a specific shout out to our three panelists, Don Guckert, Mary Vosevich, and Norm Young for sharing their insights and emerging practices on COVID-19 responses to date.  Several things became abundantly clear from the content of the webinar and sorting through the plethora of excellent participant questions.

The concept of exponential change and the mindset that must follow remains critical for us to understand and embrace as we face these uncertain times and unchartered territory.  To reiterate, exponential change is a mathematical term for doubling.  Consider the Lily Pond illustration:   

If there is one lily pad on a pond on Day 1/June 1 and that lily pad doubles every day thereafter until Day 30/June 30 when the pond is then full of lily pads, the question is, “On Day 20, what percentage of the pond is covered with lily pads?”  The answer is astonishing – it’s one-tenth of 1%!  On a graph (and on the pond), it appears as a mere speck . . . you can’t see really any change whatsoever!  However, by Day 28, the pond is one-quarter full and subsequently on Day 29 the pond is half full.  This is the power of exponential change!”

This is an incredibly important concept to understand when considering the rate and pace in uptake of coronavirus cases and corresponding deaths in less than a month.  For example, in the U.S. alone on Sunday evening (3/22/2020) there were 32,000 cases and 400 deaths; Thursday evening (3/19/2020) there were 13,000 cases and 193 deaths; last Thursday evening (3/12/2020) there were 1,500 cases and 17 deaths; and just two weeks ago, Thursday evening (3/5/2020) there were 200 cases and 0 deaths.  Unfortunately, that’s the power of exponential change.

It reinforces what our Town Hall panelists said several times.  “These are the decisions we made as of today (Friday, March 20th).  They will most certainly change come tomorrow, Monday, and everyday thereafter . . . and quickly.  That’s how fluid the whole situation is.”  Therefore, please take on an exponential mindset, think differently, and become anticipatory.  Plan in days not weeks; adapt and re-adapt; predict and mobilize. 

The following briefly highlights a few of the key points from the panelists’ thoughts and Q&A responses:
* Either follow the NIMS (National Incident Management System) guidelines and structure or some form of a critical incident management structure/emergency operations command center and use it to direct and implement strategies and decisions quickly.
Be a strategic voice. No organization on campus has a broader, deeper, and more integrated understanding of overall campus operations than individuals in our profession.  We touch everything.  We are positioned to add greater value to these planning, operations, and logistics efforts.
Understand and implement CDC guidelines and OSHA regulations for all service deliveries (trades, custodial, and grounds). Share your processes with other colleagues to gain new insights.
Accommodate staff needs and concerns as best you can and communicate, communicate, communicate with data, facts, and transparency.
Move to half/half or even smaller teams and increase the number of shifts to separate and parse critical skill sets in case of illness, compromise, or otherwise.
Use your card access data strategically (and other available data sets and technological tools and resources) to address movement, establish occupancy patterns and pathways, and contact tracing.
* Because trusted Business Partners and contractors are vital to our collective success, reach out, review protocols, assess expertise, and address backup skill sets NOW.
Reduce building occupancy dramatically and co-locate required needs for space use to enhance, streamline and minimize cleaning, etc., but still exercising social/physical distancing.
Set the example by demonstrating and modeling “social/physical distancing” by all facilities employees and contractors.
Start modeling large percentage staff reductions to reveal your pinch points and vulnerabilities, especially around “flattening the curve” and addressing future financial considerations.
Aggressively pursue energy conservation (for all the obvious reasons).

–Be sure to utilize APPA’s resources by going to our COVID-19 Resources and Guidelines page
–Share your own guidelines, new processes, and emerging practices with fellow APPA members. Send them to communications@appa.org.
Register for upcoming APPA Town Hall sessions on COVID-19.

Remember to communicate, communicate, communicate; model a proactive anticipatory response; and take the initiative.  Remember, your campus is NOT closed–you continue to operate with on-line educational deliveries, some research activities, and limited, but targeted maintenance/custodial services and logistical operations.  You and your staff remain critically essential employees. 

You are up to this task, this journey.  You have prepared your entire career for these unique challenges and circumstances.  We cannot change the final outcome (whatever it may be), but we can keep our spaces clean, safe, and ready for the next wave of changes.  Finally, remember, that leadership matters . . . “YOUR” leadership matters!

E. Lander Medlin
APPA Executive Vice President