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SVHEC latest workplace to be disrupted by virus / July 20, 2020

The Southern Virginia Higher Education has joined other county workplaces in shutting down in recent days due to possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The higher education center learned from an employee on Tuesday, July 14 that the person had “had prolonged contact with someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19” — information that prompted SVHEC executive director Betty Adams to close the facility for the remainder of the week.

The shutdown, which took effect Tuesday at the main Bruce Street building and the SVHEC Innovation Center, is scheduled to be lifted today, according to a memo that Adams emailed to staff members on Friday.

“I understand that Tuesday’s notification of the potential COVID-19 exposure of a SVHEC team member was unnerving,” Adams wrote to employees. “It certainly was for me, but it probably should not have been. This serves to remind us that the virus is still out there. It has not gone away.

“As we move in and around the community for work or pleasure, take vacations and attend gatherings, we all put ourselves at risk of exposure. That’s why it is critical for us to be aware of our surroundings, practice social distancing, wear masks and wash our hands,” she wrote.

Both the main facility and innovation center will be opened today to staff on the leadership team and essential finance and operations, in addition to approved workforce training students and other partners. SVHEC is being advised by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) regarding the status of the potentially exposed employee, and it is adhering to CDC and DHRM health and safety guidelines.

Adams said that upon discovering the problem, the SVHEC brought in a third-party cleaning vendor to disinfect and deep clean the offices, restrooms and shared spaces in both buildings. The Research and Development (R&D) building space was not exposed and operations there continued.

The possible exposure comes at a time when SVHEC has been operating with a pared-down staff due to the pandemic. For that reason — and because of existing health precautions in place — the facility is not seeking mass testing for its employees in the aftermath of the incident.

“Since we only have allowed a limited number of staff and partners to return thus far and everyone is following strict masking and social distancing protocols, no one else is at risk or in need of testing,” said Adams on Friday.

She wrote in an email to employees that “I am confident that our buildings are now safe” after observing the cleaning of the facility by the outside vendor.

“I was impressed with how professional and meticulous they were,” she stated.

All SVHEC employees are slated to report back to work on Aug. 3. The higher ed center will follow a four-day-a-week work schedule, with employees teleworking from home each Friday to allow for cleaning and sanitizing. The Aug. 3 reopening does not apply to the general public.

Persons without authorization to enter the facility will be asked to leave.

Mask wearing and social distancing will be required on the campus, facility and room rentals will be temporarily discontinued, the Voluntary Literary Program will be paused until further notice, and some lobby and break room furniture will be removed to encourage social distancing.

The SVHEC is developing a plan to reopen for the fall semester but will limit classes for now to workforce services and partner students. “When school starts, [we] will have a contract with a cleaning crew to clean and sanitize every classroom between classes,” said Adams. “We want to be as clean as we can be.”

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