The Brown University Community Council began its first meeting of the year with a round of jovial introductions before turning to its downbeat agenda yesterday — hearing about the campus H1N1 influenza situation and the Rhode Island legislature's proposed student tax bill and getting an update on the University's finances (see story above left).
Edward Wheeler, director of health services, led off with the news that a total of 234 cases of influenza-like illness have been reported on campus as of Wednesday afternoon. Wheeler told The Herald just last Thursday that the number of reported cases was at 78 — indicating that the disease may be spreading quickly.
Although H1N1 vaccines will not be available until late October, Wheeler said, the University will begin offering seasonal flu vaccines to all members of the campus community today. Instead of the traditional clinics for students, Health Services will set up a vaccination station in Josiah's that will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Wheeler said the University hopes to more than double the average number of vaccinations this year — setting a goal of between 3,000 and 3,500 in an effort to contain what is expected to be a worse-than-average flu season.
Health Services has also developed an online "Flu-web" service for faculty, students and staff to streamline communication, care and treatment. Through the service, students can report symptoms 24 hours a day and will be contacted by Health Services personnel, usually within 48 hours, Wheeler said. The service will also communicate with a student's professors to report illness and reduce the confusion of getting notes from deans and doctors.
All routine appointments — such as physicals or yearly exams — have been put off so nurses and doctors can conserve resources, and Health Services has hired two extra nurses, Wheeler said. Staff have also developed a triage protocol in the event of a sudden surge in reported illness, he said.
Wheeler added that Health Services has already identified a provisional list of "high-risk" students, including medical students and those with severe asthma, who will have first priority for receiving the vaccine.
He said that there is little the University can do to limit the total number of flu cases, but that he is hoping for a "flatter and longer" trajectory rather than a sudden surge in illness.
With a final salute of "Cover your cough!" Wheeler yielded the floor to a discussion of the proposed student tax bill, which is expected to be discussed by the State House of Representatives when the body resumes session at the end of October.
The bill introduces a tax of $150 per student per semester on private universities — exempting students who are Rhode Island residents — as well as a "non-profit generating tax" which would allow the state to levy taxes on Brown's properties.
Though Governor Donald Carcieri '65 has said he would veto the bill, the University is still "working closely with others on coordinated strategies to stop the legislation," said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.
"If it were to pass, there would be a whole group of people battling in courts, who are looking into that now," she said. "Let's ensure we're not putting up a toll booth on I-95."
Quinn emphasized the University's continued efforts to be a positive force in the community and to take this opportunity to engage in further discussion of community development.
The University has been active in recent years in the planning and development of the "knowledge economy" in Providence — the idea that through widespread University, city and community collaboration, the city of Providence could grow into an intellectual hub, fueled in part by the expansion of research and graduate studies within Brown.
A state tax would work counter to this goal, Quinn argued, drawing University funds away from capital expansion.
An article in Thursday's paper ("Flu cases spreading quickly, BUCC hears," Sept. 24) incorrectly stated that the University would begin offering seasonal flu vaccines to the entire Brown community Thursday. Only the staff and faculty clinics started Thursday. Student flu clinics are set to start Monday at Josiah's from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.