Essential staff remain on campus despite closure // The Observer
It has been two weeks since Notre Dame closed the campus due to the spread of the coronavirus. There are no students talking and making fun of Duncan, rushing the halls before class starts, running and sweating in the gymnasium, or congregating for activities in the residence halls.
Instead, the campus is quiet. The majority of students have left their dorms and the Duncan and LaFortune student centers are closed. It is the beginning of spring. The trees are greening up, but no one is around to take advantage of the warmer weather.
However, there are still students who cannot return home and stay on campus. With these students come the essential workers who continue to work.
As noted in a letter from the executive office to faculty and staff on Tuesday, essential employees will still be required to work on campus, including power plant, security and fire services, custodial services, food services, basic IT support and teachers and students. Support.
As of March 18, there were 29 onsite staff and 33 on-call staff at the Hesburgh Library, Dennis Brown, the university’s vice president for public affairs and communications, said in an email.
“The health and safety of all members of the campus community and our visitors has always been Notre Dame’s top priority,” he said. “Never has that been truer than in these turbulent times when no work is routine.”
Security and building services personnel remain on campus and work diligently to keep campus safe, Brown said.
“This includes NDPD-enhanced patrols to protect both lives and property and ongoing, specialized cleaning and disinfection services to campus buildings — among many other responsibilities,” he said.
Another letter from the executive office dated March 14 indicates that supervisors in each department will specify who should work from home or on campus. For staff who continue to work on campus, the University remains committed to safety and will continue to adopt recommended safety measures.
Safety team member Lynne Zeiger said medical issues and age are two reasons for suspending work with the NDPD.
“If staff or their family are ill and have a doctor’s note or are over 60, staff may be permitted not to come to campus,” Zeiger said.
Zeiger’s department of five has dropped to three over the past week. The two staff members who chose to stay at home are both over 60.
However, in some departments, age is not the reason for requesting a work suspension.
Yesnia Tillis, a custodian who works primarily at the Hesburgh Library, said being over 60 cannot be used as a reason for ending work at the building services department.
“As far as I know, most [the custodians over 60 years old] still pretty much work,” Tillis said.
Charles Cecil is a 62-year-old caretaker with asthma who mainly works at law school and has been working for two weeks.
Cecil’s workload was reduced to one day a week starting Monday, he said.
In response to policies for older employees, Brown said the University is committed “for [providing] the best information from the CDC [to employees] to answer this and other self-care questions.
The majority of departments have reduced the number of employees working on campus.
Robert Kolic, a member of the Hesburgh Library’s IT department, is one of the few staff members still working on campus.
“I volunteered to stay on campus because all of my co-workers have children or elderly people at home to take care of,” Kolic said. “In the meantime, it’s just me and my dog when I get home.”
As the IT department eases the transition to online classes, Kolic’s workload has increased as he is now responsible for cleaning frequently used computers in the library.
Meanwhile, custodial staff are limited to Holy Cross where they continue to wipe down surfaces and clean with disinfectant wipes, Vice President of Finance Monica Markovich said.
While some departments can work remotely, others still need to come to campus.
Scott Vaerewyck, a painter employed by an outside contractor, said he was still following his regular work schedule because construction is considered essential work by Indiana. Before being interviewed, Vaerewyck was scraping part of the surface of a wall in the Hesburgh library, repairing the tunnels inside, priming and painting the wall.
Because it is considered essential work, Vaerewyck says he won’t get paid if he doesn’t come to work, though he’s not opposed to continuing his work.
The executive office said all regular full-time and part-time employees eligible for benefits are still being paid at the current base rate, including those who are temporarily off work or self-isolating.
The letter says that although the University faces a serious financial challenge, it remains committed to supporting Notre Dame employees.
“The University is a well-resourced institution and is able to deal with unexpected events and change much better than many other organizations, especially in our region,” said Daniel Graff, director of the Higgins Labor Program.
For staff currently working on campus, health protection is essential. However, the University has not provided enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff whose work is not directly related to cleaning, according to Zeiger.
“We haven’t received the masks; we only received gloves, wipes and hand sanitizer from the University because we have to clean the front door and the handle of the Hesburgh library from time to time,” said Zeiger.
Keepers Tillis and Cecil both said they have been given extra gloves, hand sanitizers and can request masks if needed.
Brown said the University provides appropriate PPE and sanitizing tools to all staff and encourages those who feel they are not receiving the appropriate materials to contact their supervisors.
“The men and women of [NDPD and building services] are properly equipped with masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and the many other supplies necessary to perform their duties,” Brown said. “Staff or faculty members in any department who have concerns have been encouraged to speak to their supervisor or Human Resources. We will always work with particularly vulnerable people to make accommodations and ensure they are not at risk.
Building services personnel are participating in ongoing training on cleaning and sterilization in response to COVID-19, Tillis said.
However, Zeiger said she wanted more specific advice or training regarding COVID-19. So far, she has only received general advice from the NDPD, such as hand washing and social distancing.
“I’ll be less worried if I could get more detailed advice and more protective gear,” Zeiger said.
Brown said NDPD staff have been made aware of all up-to-date health guidelines and if more information is released, staff will be updated.
“[Staff at NDPD has] were briefed on proper job-specific protocols, all in accordance with guidelines provided by the CDC, OSHA, and our occupational physicians,” Brown said. “If these guidelines should change, we will of course work with our staff to make the necessary and appropriate adjustments.”
Zeiger said she is the only one in her family working outside the home right now.
“I’m afraid to contact someone with COVID-19 and bring them home,” she said. “My daughter is pregnant and lives with me, and I’m afraid of transmitting the virus to her.”
Zeiger is 57 years old and suffers from pneumonia. She could ask to stay home, but said she didn’t have a medical certificate.
“I want to stay home, but my colleagues are over 60 and I feel bad if I stay home while they work,” Zeiger said. “They’re more vulnerable than me, so I just have to do my part.”
Zeiger said she hopes the University can further reduce on-site staff by closing more buildings and facilities.
“This way, less staff [members] have to come to campus, and they can be better protected at home,” she said.
Editor‘Remark : This story was originally published as Zixu Wang and Genevieve Redsten. Redsten did not contribute to this report. A previous version of this article also misidentified Scott Vaerewyck as Vaerewyck Scott, misstated his wife’s employer and insinuated that Vaerewyck had to work without proper supplies. The Observer regrets these errors.