Campus News Health & Wellness

Board helps UGA navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

Elizabeth Burch teaches a law school class during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Preventative Measures Advisory Board does essential work to keep campus safe

Last semester, the University of Georgia was able to remain open while many universities across the country opted for completely virtual learning environments. Much of the credit for keeping the UGA campus safe and in operation can be owed to a team of 13 experts from a wide variety of backgrounds who make up the Preventative Measures Advisory Board.

PMAB helped to determine the safest methods for conducting in-person classes during a pandemic based on current COVID-19 research and CDC guidelines. They worked to figure how to keep the marching band practicing and performing without potentially spreading germs. From the UGA golf course to football games to air ventilation and strategically placed plexiglass shields, PMAB worked hard to outsmart the looming threat of COVID-19.

Piccolo players practicing with special mouth guards

Piccolo players practice with extra precautions during the pandemic. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Appointed by UGA President Jere W. Morehead, PMAB is composed of 13 people with a range of expertise. The co-chairs are Lisa Nolan, dean of UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and John McCollum, associate vice president in the university’s Environmental Safety Division. The other 11 members are:

  • Brandy Burgess, epidemiologist and director of infection control in the College of Veterinary Medicine
  • John Francis, a microbiologist and infectious diseases physician in the AU/UGA Medical Partnership
  • Russ Karls, an infectious disease expert in the College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Chris King associate vice president for research integrity and safety
  • John Kotval, manager, Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Safety Program
  • Hayley Major, an account manager in strategic marketing
  • Luke Naeher, professor, environmental health science
  • Glen Nowak, director of UGA’s Center for Health and Risk Communication
  • Shelley Nuss, dean of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership
  • Fred Quinn, head of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of infectious diseases
  • David Stallknecht, molecular epidemiologist also in the department of infectious diseases

“Our board is actually quite diverse. There are individuals that have worked at the CDC previously, and have worked in mass communications and between the College of Public Health,  the veterinary school and the medical campus, we all bring various aspects to the table,” said Francis.

The group works like this: Requests come in and are sorted through by Kotval, who collects and organizes the “tickets” using Microsoft Teams, then sends emails to the group so they can consider and discuss the requests online before each meeting. Each request is analyzed individually at the biweekly meetings, then recommendations are given based on current CDC guidelines and individual expertise.

PMAB also meets with requestors in person if more information is needed, and site visits are conducted when necessary.

“It’s a really diverse group that looks at various angles,” said Nuss. “I look through it with different eyes as a physician and may even have a different opinion than Dr. Francis, who is also a physician but an infectious disease expert.”

The board benefits from having experts in both human and animal health. “The vet school is a medical school,” said Nolan. “It’s just that our patients look different. For instance, Brandy Burgess and John Francis both have a medical degree – his is an M.D; hers is a D.V.M. – but  they both have Ph.D.s and are both infection control officers, or have been. And you’ll find that what they advise on things line up, like, perfectly. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s animal disease or human disease, the principles of disease control are the same.”

Since the group was founded in late spring 2020, they have received over 400 requests from across UGA and its subsidiaries.

“We get challenged with all kinds of crazy stuff,” said King. “UGA has such a broad portfolio that the breadth of requests is astonishing. We get a number of requests from Griffin and Tifton. Early on we got a request from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. They were taking the research vessel out for a couple of weeks and wanted to know how to keep people safe in close quarters.”

PMAB decided the voyage was manageable and the group’s recommendations involved testing people right before they left, among other things.

“The questions and requests we receive can be very challenging,” said McCollum. “But the PMAB members are an incredibly talented group of experts who have worked tirelessly over the past nine months to assist the university community in identifying and implementing preventative measures in each situation with the single goal of protecting the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students and visitors as well as the local communities where our campuses and facilities are located.”

This semester PMAB has already met to go over requests including holding live performances at the Performing Arts Center and setting up a safe farmers market.

“There’s no place I go on campus now that I don’t feel a sense of ownership,” said Nolan. “I walked out of one meeting and I could hear somebody practicing a tuba off in a parking garage. I waited for a bus to turn in front of me and I could see the signs in the bus that we helped put there. I was in the Georgia Center and there were barriers up where we had suggested them. So, I feel this sense pride in what PMAB has done to help people be safe on our campus. There’s hardly a part of campus, now, that our team hasn’t touched in some way.”