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Orange County's health recommendations 'more of a personal communication,' Blouin says

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin (front) and Chairperson of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer discuss lagging faculty salaries during the Faculty Executive Committee's meeting on Monday Jan. 27, 2020.

Members of the Faculty Executive Committee gathered Monday to discuss topics including the student population for the fall, the letter sent by the Orange County Health Department and new technology the University is considering employing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orange County Health Department letter

Robert Blouin, the executive vice chancellor and provost, addressed the largely publicized letter from the Orange County Health Department recommending, at minimum, five weeks of online instruction and restricting on-campus housing.

Blouin said that he discussed the letter with Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart and Medical Director Erica Pettigrew that morning. Stewart and Pettigrew spoke with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz separately to talk about the letter on Friday, Blouin said.

“(Guskiewicz) was quite satisfied with our original presumption that this was not in any way a mandate, or an edict, or a call to immediately act — but rather a letter from one CEO to the other in a friendly and cordial way,” Blouin said.

After the letter was released, Blouin said he had another meeting with Chancellor Guskiewicz, Stewart and Pettigrew.

“They indicated to us that it was a letter really directed to Kevin as more of a personal communication,” Blouin said. “I asked Quintana explicitly, 'Did she expect us to share this letter openly as an open communication?' She said no, that was not her intent and that she certainly did not expect us to do that as a consequence of that communication.”

Blouin then acknowledged the criticism faced after the release of the letter.

Blouin said that though they did consider a delayed start, they decided against it due to timing and the expectations of students.

“Did you feel, at any point, that parents would need to know that the local health department had made these recommendations before they made their decision about housing?” Joy Renner, a council member, asked.

Blouin said he did not consider this to be an official position of the health department because it was not released to the public as a position statement. He said they respected the intention that the senders of the letter did not view this as a public document and the letter was a continuation of discourse he had already been engaging in with them.

“We didn’t necessarily see it as something that needed to be shared, mainly because it was consistent with a lot of our conversations and that we had been having numerous discussions about a lot of these things over a wide period of time,” he said.

Student population this fall

Stephen Farmer, the vice provost of enrollment and undergraduate admission, shared statistics about the student population and enrollment this fall.

Farmer said that about 61 percent of beds in on-campus dorms and about 77 percent of beds in Granville Towers are contracted.

Farmer also spoke about efforts the financial aid office has made to provide technology grants to remote students.

“They have posted about 2,000 technology grants to students with demonstrated financial need who are enrolling remotely this fall,” Farmer said. “This is intended to help them find the kind of internet service that will enable them to do their best work. We expect to post another 500 or 600 of these awards before we’re done.”

Farmer said that they are expecting the increase in student need to be about $10 to 15 million.

New technology on campus

Steven King then discussed new technologies that his lab is developing that aim to determine the level of community compliance with new social distancing and mask wearing rules.

One project that has just been launched is

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“This is a site that allows students to figure out which door they should enter through, and at which time,” King said. 

The site also shows students maps of specific buildings and can align with a student’s schedule, King said.

Another technology King’s lab is developing is health greeter kiosks. 

“It uses computer vision to see if there is a person there, and if that person is wearing a mask or not and if they are outside of six feet of another person,” King said.

King said the technology does not record, transmit or save video and there is no engagement with police or law enforcement agencies. 

"There is no engagement from the administration other than seeing the aggregate statistics of what will be happening,” King said. 

King said his team wants to do a pilot project where six kiosks will be placed in different schools and areas on campus. 

There will be a sign in 20 feet in front of each kiosk notifying students of its presence, and the kiosk will be placed in areas where students can take alternate routes to avoid them, King said.

King said he would be consulting with student leaders and organizations about their thoughts and concerns about the technology. 

“We are ready whenever the community is ready,” King said.