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Like other colleges and universities across the country, the global coronavirus pandemic has impacted Southern College of Optometry. Events have unfolded rapidly, so there's been a steady stream of updates and news. We will share future updates on this page, but please also continue to monitor your email as specific groups may receive targeted email instructions.
Dear SCO community,
Earlier this week, I was talking to a student who just taken Part I of her National Boards. She was very upbeat and optimistic about her experience. Our students are really adapting well, even when it means taking boards wearing PPE.
This week, the SGA president and third-year class president met with Clinical Program administrators and shared good suggestions on how we can refine scheduling before the fall semester to maximize patient care encounters for our interns. It's great to see so many people in good spirits. I'm proud of everyone's positive morale.
Our safety protocols also continue to work. By comparison with Shelby County and the surrounding area, SCO continues to weather the COVID-19 storm thanks to the SCO community taking this health crisis seriously. Don't let down your guard so we can continue moving forward.
Some updates this week:
Last, I wanted to mention that our Security, Student Services, Information Services, and Communications Departments have collaborated to help process badges in advance for our entering students. First-year badges will be ready when they arrive later this month, saving them time and the need to line up socially distanced for a photo.
It's this kind of collaboration that sets SCO apart and has kept the college moving forward the last few months. Working together is a positive accomplishment. I'm appreciative to everyone for wearing your mask, social distancing, washing your hands, and being mindful and safe in public spaces. Keep up the great work!
We need to face facts. The COVID-19 numbers are quite alarming, nationally and locally. If you aren't paying attention, you should:
What does this mean for SCO? It hit home for us personally when four students tested positive in recent weeks. Currently the testing backlog is creating a longer wait for results. This means someone who has recuperated could require an additional week or more of self quarantine before being cleared to return back to campus. Going to a group gathering and finding out that someone else was infected may mean a period of disruptive but necessary isolation that could have been avoided. Don't take that risk.
For students, an excessive, extended absence also could mean that someone may not graduate on time. It would be unfortunate if a student had to spend another term in order to complete our curriculum requirements, but SCO must ensure that our graduates meet the highly defined standards of our optometry program.
Right now, this scenario isn't our reality, so I note this risk to encourage everyone to take this seriously. SCO prioritized the health of our students, employees and patients from the start of the outbreak. Testing helped us catch infections. Our pre-screening program is an extra step to come on campus. We're ahead of other organizations still figuring out the measures we adopted early.
Here on campus, please continue to wear your mask, social distance, and frequently wash your hands. Everyone is on the honor system when you're away from campus but staying safe will benefit us all. Reducing our exposure risks and infection rates is the only real way that we can carry out our mission in a pandemic.
There are some bright spots. A food truck is visiting each week, a new dining services vendor has been selected, and Casey Krug, '21, was named AOSA Student of the Year. She's the third SCO student to receive this honor within the last six years and we're very proud of her!
We're looking forward to welcoming our new entering class next month. We've had patients express their appreciation for finally getting an eye exam. And even with staggered and remote schedules, our employees are grateful that the campus is back open.
Please continue to be diligent during these challenging times. I appreciate your continued commitment.
Dear SCO family,
As we get ready to welcome our second-year students to campus Thursday for their COVID-19 testing, it's a good opportunity for an update a few weeks into our campus reopening.
First, thank you for your continued cooperation in making our new normal work. Just getting your temperature checked is a different way of coming onto campus. It's a big adjustment but these measures are also why SCO is ahead of some of our sister institutions in being able to resume our mission as safely as possible.
Please know that COVID-related decisions are being made by a group of dedicated people with background knowledge and daily access to resources for our safety protocols. This past weekend saw the first practice session in our theory labs. These are important steps ahead of our third-year students moving into patient care within the next two weeks. Behind the scenes, individuals worked throughout the weekend to clean equipment and surfaces.
Many within the President's Council get emails or calls daily with a lot of very good questions. Some of the circumstances are unique, so we handle these individually. One very complex scenario we're evaluating includes training additional staff members to assist with contact tracing in the event that someone at SCO tests positive, determining the standard questions that need asking, and creating a flow chart to help guide the next steps in this process.
Just to be clear:
Through these changes, we work to find the balance between our collective public health and transparency. Please remember that each of us has a responsibility to protect this delicate balance. Our students count on us to provide a safe environment so they can successfully complete their education and become ODs. Our faculty and staff depend on us as their place of employment. And our patients rely on us for their eyecare.
I will remind you to take COVID-19 seriously. Tennessee and Shelby County are hot spots with infection and hospitalization rates spiking. We're all adults, so I encourage you to be responsible regarding where you go and and what you do away from SCO if it might jeopardize your health or someone else at SCO. Remember that fellow employees, students, or even patients might be disappointed if they saw an ill-timed social media post or heard about a risky public behavior taken by anyone affiliated with SCO as a college and healthcare provider.
We're each obligated to act ethically because our health and success depends on each of us trusting each other to do the right thing and to be truthful with our screening process. While it may be more difficult than ordinary times, we can make this succeed by working together.
Thanks to each of you for your continued diligence and commitment to helping keep our mission moving forward as safely as possible.
Dear SCO Family,
I hope you had an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day weekend. The holiday reminds us that we're getting closer to our planned reopening, with employees returning the week of June 8 and then June 15 for third- and fourth-year students with clinic and lab assignments.
Our protocols are still being finalized. As you will see, there will be a lot of new information to digest because things will be drastically different on campus this summer.
For instance, we're removing chairs from the lobby in The Eye Center because we're not permitting patients to bring visitors, other than those accompanying minors or with patients who require assistance. That space will be used for temperature screenings for patients with appointments. The clinic protocols alone will outline a significant amount of critical information designed to keep everyone involved as safe as possible in a patient care setting.
Additionally, the Activity Center will not be open this summer for fitness activities because it will be used as a supplemental lab area.
To go over details and questions that you may have, the following virtual town halls will be held:
Again, we will be sharing concrete details, but as of now, the plan is to test all employees for COVID-19 with everyone participating on a schedule. We're still working on details for student screenings.
To our employees, we must limit your presence on campus whenever possible. Human Resources is working with managers to finalize schedule templates, but we must change our mindset for the interim future. We are encouraging employees NOT to come to campus unless your manager requires it. Those who can work from home at least part-time should be doing that on this continued interim basis, even though the campus is reopening.
We are adopting this interim model of remote working because it's safer. For our third- and fourth-year students to be able to complete their necessary patient care encounters and socially distanced lab experiences, we must minimize the number of people on our campus. As previously communicated, we will only be seeing half the normal amount of patients because of the safety measures that must be implemented.
Similarly, over this summer students will be required to come to campus for their labs and clinic assignments, with minimal time permitted to be on campus in between schedules. Otherwise, all studying must be conducted off-campus.
These measures are the best possible solutions to make our daily operations possible to carry out. The idea is to minimize the risks to everyone involved by permitting employees to work from home and encouraging students to limit their time on campus to an as-needed basis.
Thank you all for your cooperation. Remaining flexible and positive in the coming weeks will help us to succeed in resuming our operations in this interim capacity to the benefit of everyone involved.
Lewis Reich, O.D., Ph.D.
Our summer semester is off to a great start, with our third-year students already participating in online lectures this week.
We recently surveyed employees for them to self-identify vulnerabilities needed for scheduling remote work or childcare needs. A similar survey is being developed for our students.
We are planning virtual campus-wide meetings to discuss a lot of the specific protocols that are being finalized for our safety. Be thinking of questions. This is new for all of us, so there's even more information to learn.
In the interim, it's important to read these email updates. Pay attention as we near reopening so you know how these plans affect you.
Here are critical points to emphasize this week:
FocalPoint at Crosstown Concourse
Just reading these plans, you can see how detailed and involved many of the new protocols will be. Like much of the country, our leadership team had to rethink or reinvent how we conduct much of our daily business.
Our mission, however, remains the same, and we're committed to providing the best optometric education possible, outstanding patient care, and a safe campus atmosphere for us all.
We're all looking forward to being together again - safely distanced and masked - soon!
Lewis Reich, O.D., Ph.D.
First, congratulations to SCO's Class of 2020 as we celebrate them becoming Doctors of Optometry on what would have been their commencement day. We're very proud of all the award recipients who were honored earlier today. Thanks to all the faculty and staff who worked to create the online program and the students who participated.
Our Student Services team will be verifying board requirements have been met so transcripts can be sent. They're also making plans to mail diplomas. I know our new graduates are eager to start practicing this summer.
The President's Council has continued to meet, so here are some key updates:
Some of these topics may be discussed in more detail on Wednesday's faculty and staff calls, but please bear with us as we finalize more detailed policies and procedures. As others begin to reopen slowly, their best practices may benefit us throughout May as we work toward our own reopening timeline.
I look forward to talking with employees tomorrow and seeing students in June. Please continue to stay safe and healthy to help make this a reality.
Dear SCO Community,
The President's Council met today and reviewed the agenda and discussion items for next week's virtual Board of Trustees meeting set for April 24 at 1 pm. We previewed much of the discussion for you in Tuesday's update, but the big focus remains on our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the budgetary and educational program delivery implications.
Additional discussion today gave us preliminary updates on some of the plans for instruction and clinical delivery. These plans will be critical to SCO safely and successfully reopening later this summer. All service areas of our Clinical Programs will have completed their plans by April 30 to review with clinic leadership. Once finalized, these plans will be communicated appropriately.
We recognize, too, that the landscape may continue to look different with short-term strategies for interviewing prospective students remotely or providing virtual tours before travel can be safely resumed. A lot of work remains to be done, but the President's Council is confident that we will be successful by staying focused and positive in the coming months.
In the interim, we're making plans for our online Senior Awards Ceremony to be held on May 5. Additional details are being finalized, but we plan to record this livestream so parents, family, friends, and industry partners can watch.
An Announcement about the Blink Diner
Last, we wanted to share with you some other news. Before the pandemic started, Melissa Hardage, proprietor of the Blink Diner on our fourth floor, advised us that she intended to leave in May for family and personal reasons.
May 8th will be her team's last official date. The college has begun the search for a new caterer to provide us with food options. The goal is to have a new team in place beginning with the start of the fall term. We're so very grateful to Melissa, Glaze, and her team for cooking and catering the last several years.
We recognize, too, that many of our students will have returned home without the chance to say goodbye, so we will be making a social media post soon so you can thank Blink for all those delicious cupcakes and other tasty treats that we've enjoyed the last several years. We're appreciative for all that Blink has done, so I know they'll appreciate hearing from you, too.
In the interim, please keep healthy and safe until our next update.
The SCO Admissions Office remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have. It’s best to send an email to [email protected], but if your situation is unique or complex, feel free to email us and include your phone number, and we will call you as soon as possible.
Along those lines, we thought it was important to tell candidates that we are accepting Pass/Fail grades for prerequisites taken during Winter and Spring 2020. We prefer a letter grade if the student has a choice, but again, Pass/Fail will be accepted. Once the situation regarding COVID-19 stabilizes, we will evaluate our policy for the Summer 2020 term.
At this time, we have made no changes to our deadlines for Fall 2021 candidates. OptomCAS is set to open the application cycle on June 30, and we will accept supplemental applications as soon as the candidate has an OptomCAS ID. Should this change, we will update our website immediately. Stay safe
Today's update predominately includes important information for our students, but I'm including the entire campus, so everyone hears this at the same time. There are some critical details to share today.
Remainder of this semester
With explicit federal guidance advising complete social distancing through April 30 (with a possibility that this will need to be extended), the campus must remain closed for the rest of this semester.
As far as didactic courses, we will continue with online participation through the end of this semester. All students must continue to participate and complete all online classes and exams in order to get a grade.
Even though SCO has advised you to shelter in place, we ask that you use your own best judgment about your own plans. Please know that if you return home, you should seriously take into account the risks involved with traveling either by plane or by car. You should also factor the COVID-19 infection numbers if you live in one of the most at-risk areas. If you travel to another state, please make sure that you are familiar with the COVID-19 precautions there.
Wherever you decide to finish this semester, you must have high-speed Internet access in order to finish your online academic requirements.
For the Classes of 2020 and in particular the Class of 2021, even if you go home, you are still expected to participate in online instruction as required as we continue to monitor and assess plans for the future administration of your clinical education curriculum.
The Class of 2020 will be involved in the planning of their commencement exercises to be held at the appropriate time, once it is safe to do so.
Return to campus
Based on the available data, our current plan is that the campus will reopen for instruction on June 15. Faculty and staff would need to arrive several days before the students in order to get the campus ready for a regular resumption of our normal schedule. A date will be communicated at the appropriate time for employees. Please understand that factors beyond our control may require us to change this anticipated return date.
Dr. Lindsay Elkins is finalizing a plan on the resumption of labs and didactic instruction. Then, plans for clinical instruction will be put into place. This information will be communicated well in advance, and should allow for completion of instruction missed by our forced closure concurrent with the summer term,
We anticipate registration will happen as normal this fall for our incoming first-year students and our rising second- and third-year classes. Depending on the resumption of our normal schedule, we will look at the appropriate timeline for our fourth-year class. Should we have a delayed registration for our rising fourth year students, we are reviewing options to help ensure that you can receive the loans for which you applied to cover living expenses.
The administration is pleased to announce that there will be no tuition increase for the 2020-21 academic year. Though our anticipated reopening plans support all current class years completing the program in four years, should the Class of 2021 have to complete a portion of the program in the summer of 2021, there will be no additional tuition cost beyond what is currently committed for a four-year program completion.
In conclusion, this update involves a lot of information. This crisis continues to unfold. If you've seen today's reports, our country's infection rate curve is sharply higher than that of China or Italy, the two countries previously most affected.
It is anticipated that April will be a critical time for our country. Social distancing is scientifically cited as the most critical tool in the public health arsenal for minimizing exposure and infection risk. I ask that each of you continue to take this seriously in order for us to contribute to our nation's recovery as soon as possible.
In the interim, online Q&A sessions are being planned for faculty, staff, and students to answer more questions in-depth. Some of the answers may involve follow-up given that these plans are being formulated remotely by the administration.
Thanks to each of you for taking the time to read this critical update,
We know that many of our alumni and friends are being impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic. We encourage each of you to stay safe and please let our Alumni Relations office know if you have your own news to share or if there are questions that we can answer.
Here is a big picture overview of information about SCO's status that we wanted to share with you:
The college's leadership team has been meeting regularly to respond to events and create plans for dealing with this public health crisis. There have been no reports of any SCO student or employee infected by the virus, although four individuals in Shelby County have tested positive as of this writing. U.S. Senator John Boozman, OD '77, noted in an interview this week his opinion that the crisis represents one of the greatest challenges to American society since World War II.
As we've communicated to our students, SCO has faced institutional challenges in the past. Although the present circumstances are difficult, your messages of support and goodwill mean a lot to our students, so thank you in advance for helping us boost their morale as we look forward. Our students appreciate each of you who make SCO a stronger institution because of your support.
Class of 2020,
As optometry students about to use your skills to join the ranks of our nation's healthcare providers, I'm sure you've been monitoring the rapidly developing global pandemic. The CDC has recommended no group gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.
Under those guidelines, you can see the difficult position that colleges and universities are facing. SCO is no exception, so regrettably, we must postpone May 5th commencement plans as they currently stand. You can begin to notify your friends and family. We know how upsetting this will be, even more so because you represent the Class of 2020. Just your 2020 graduation year alone has always held a special connotation.
Here's where the situation currently stands. SCO is actively working with our sister institutions to craft a plan where the profession could collectively verify that your class has met graduation requirements. Because SCO has traditionally embraced such a rigorous clinical education program, we believe that we are able to assess each student's competency for the high standards expected of our graduates.
This plan is still in development and must ultimately be acceptable to the United States Department of Education, so please exercise patience as we work on this for you. Once we have more guidance, we will be in a much better position of evaluating alternative options. We're communicating this decision to let you know that SCO is working with all other optometric programs.
In the interim, we're also hard at work on some ideas where you may each still be able to participate in a more traditional ceremony. Thanks to each of you in advance for your understanding and cooperation during these unprecedented and challenging times.
Please stay healthy,
Dr. Lewis Reich
Southern College of Optometry
Events have continued to unfold at a rapid pace related to the national emergency response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Public and private institutions are on the frontlines helping the nation flatten the infection curve to keep cases from overwhelming our healthcare system’s capacity to assist those most at risk, including seniors and those with underlying chronic health conditions.
In consultation with our senior leadership and other institutions, Southern College of Optometry has decided to prioritize public health safety. As noted in previous communications, while no COVID-19 cases have been reported at SCO, the increasing number of infections poses serious risks to students, employees, and others in clinical settings.
Taking into consideration the public health risks to clinical eyecare delivery, we have a number of critical updates to communicate:
By working together, we hope to do our part to help minimize the spread of this infectious pandemic. As soon as we’re able to resume in a safe manner, SCO will do so. We understand the concern students will feel about their academic progress. Please know that the college will continue working with ACOE and others in our field for best practice recommendations.
Please monitor your email, the college’s website, and social media for additional updates. As stressful as this unprecedented situation may seem, we are mindful that there are thousands of infected patients across the nation and many more around the globe. As educators and healthcare providers, society looks to institutions like SCO for trust when it comes to patient care safety.
Individual questions are welcomed as this situation unfolds. SCO appreciates your continued commitment to the high standards that have made the college a leader in optometric education and the region’s leading eyecare provider. SCO was founded during the Great Depression and survived WWII when most of our students were called away to service. With your cooperation, we can work together through this latest challenge and emerge stronger when this crisis passes.
Lewis Reich, O.D., Ph.D.
Southern College of Optometry
You may have heard that many colleges are universities are moving to a distance-learning format. By the very nature of an optometry college’s mission, this option is more challenging in part because of the labs and clinical learning experiences required for our students to demonstrate mastery of clinical skills as required for their license to practice optometry.
Social distancing is being encouraged by the CDC. This particularly applies to college students because they gather in large groups at one time. In SCO’s case, we have 130+ students sitting in close proximity to each other for an extended period of time. We have explored ways to increase social distancing for our students.
We’re communicating to our students that we continue to test online lecture capabilities for our students. The first-year class test was successful. The second-year class is being tested this afternoon. Tomorrow, we are testing our third-year class capabilities.
If these video lecture tests continue to be successful, we intend to implement a plan to give students the option to watch lectures by video from home through March 28. Midterms would continue as planned the week after next. We will continue to evaluate and monitor our options through this March 28 date.
During midterm week, students will be encouraged to spread out in the lecture hall for social distancing. We have also encouraged all students to practice social distancing outside the college.
Labs and clinic assignments are still unchanged but we will continue to monitor the situation for both. Lab groups are much smaller and we are able to control the sanitation in those environments. We cannot replicate those technical skill assessments in a virtual format.
Students are being encouraged to continue practicing good health and hygiene measures for cleanliness. This practice must be embraced by faculty and staff as well.
To the entire campus:
At this time, we are not aware of anyone in the SCO community having reported exposure to COVID-19. We remain vigilant, with particular care being taken in terms of preventive measures as outlined above.
We will continue to provide additional updates as the situation warrants. We recognize this is a fluid crisis, so please be continue to monitor your email, local, state, and national news reports.
These two resources have been recommended by the government for helping keep us all informed:
Thanks again to each of you for helping keep each other and our campus safe.
At Southern College of Optometry, the health and safety of our patients and campus community is a critical priority. With the national coronavirus (COVID-19) cases reported in Tennessee and other states, we will continue to monitor the outbreak. Based on recommendations of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other appropriate health agencies, we are working to keep our campus clean and safe.
With prevention being the best protection against the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, we are encouraging patients to reschedule appointments if they are ill (coughing, sneezing, fever, shortness of breath, or other serious symptoms). Frequent handwashing is crucially important. Signage has also been placed in our clinics to reinforce this message and to encourage handwashing.
If you have additional questions or concerns about this outbreak, we encourage you to monitor updates from the local health authorities and the CDC. Thank you for working with us to keep us all safe and healthy.