As I reflect on COVID-19 global pandemic my mind is drawn to the fact that so much has changed in so very little time. The U.S. saw its very first cases of coronavirus on January 21st in Washington State. President Trump responds the following day via Twitter that we have everything under control. The White House Coronavirus Response Task Force was established one week later; we continue to have everything under control (or so we are told). Our first travel bans are issued for China the day after the task force was established. Fast forward five weeks to the first case in California on February 26th of an individual with no known history of travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate this is a sign of community spread. President Trump announces the same day that the U.S. is really prepared, citing former President Obama as incompetent with respect to establishing a system that would handle a pandemic however President Trump fired our pandemic response team in 2018. We are where we are because of decisions that have been made.
It was not until March 11th that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Two days later, President Trump declared a national emergency in support of responding to the growing numbers of U.S. cases. On March 17th, President Trump under the advisement from the CDC and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), requests that everyone works from home for 14 days and limits social gatherings to no more than 10 people. The U.S. Senate unveiled an economic stimulus package of $1+ trillion two days later and on March 27th President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion emergency spending bill. Up until this point, President Trump had been hopeful to remove the stay-at-home guidance by Easter. On March 29th, however, he extended this period to the end of April. Today, we’re over 1 million cases in the world, with the U.S. exceeding 245,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,000 deaths, or over a 2.4% death rate.
Clemson’s Emergency Operations Center activated in the Watt Family Innovation Center, where I work, the afternoon of February 29th. We’ve remained in an activated state for the past 34 days. As I reflect on the challenges we’ve been through over the last month, I’m really impressed with our University response to COVID-19. We have and continue to make data-informed decisions. We first started with the recall of all of students abroad. As cases began to grow in the U.S., we shifted focus to going online after Spring Break in an effort to extend the time away from campus to prevent our local medical resources from becoming overwhelmed. What other institutions of higher education (IHEs) were doing for their semesters was, and still is, a critical contributor to Clemson’s decision-making process. It is really fun to share that along with another Watt colleague, she and I led IHE data collection for the university with significant focus on the decisions all the ACC and SEC schools were making. We have watched every single White House and SC Governor press conference for the past 34 days. I’ve also been tracking the growth in active cases, deaths, and recovered for the entire U.S. and reporting it in 24-hour and 7-day week trends. These daily data reports are included in the situational report (sitrep) that is distributed to those working on emergency operations and key leadership personnel every weekday. Our actions have always been based on what we think is the next right move to make that reduces risk for the Clemson community. I except that the work is far from over, but I’m so humbled to play a role on a fantastic team leading the University through unprecedented times.