​University’s Four-Part COVID-19 Strategy

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Sept. 1 Sewanee Village meeting held via Facebook livestream, viewers heard from Mariel Gingrich, the University’s new Public Health and Communications Officer, who talked about the University’s four-part strategy for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Viewers also received an update on the Sewanee Village priority projects.

Gingrich’s role is to function as a liaison between Sewanee, the surrounding community, and the department of health with a focus on controlling spread of the coronavirus in Sewanee.

The University’s four-part strategy consists of testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and communication, Gingrich said.

The University began with testing all employees and has performed 6,600 tests. “So far the positive rate has remained low, under one percent,” Gingrich noted. She compared the University’s under-one-percent rate to a 6.4 percent rate statewide.

“Contact tracing is a tried and true public health method,” Gingrich stressed. Those who test positive are interviewed about their contacts, and the contacts are asked to quarantine. Contacts receive daily follow-up, inquiring about their health.

Those who test positive are asked either to return home for an isolation period of 10 days or to quarantine at St. Mary’s Sewanee. Gingrich pointed out people in quarantine may have been exposed, but are not necessarily positive.

The communication effort addresses the need to inform the public about keeping safe through social distancing, mask wearing, and understanding public health protocols.

Asked if non-residents were barred from University facilities like the Sewanee Inn and golf course, Gingrich replied public businesses were open for operation and that would include the golf course. Mask wearing was, of course, required given Sewanee’s mask mandate.

Frank Gladu, who heads up the Sewanee Village initiative, observed 90 percent of University students were attending classes on campus. The Sewanee Village Project is tasked with revisioning and revitalizing the downtown area.

Gladu gave a brief update on the priority projects. The new bookstore, the first completed of the five projects, opened last month. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will be sending out bid packages to prospective contractors next month, moving forward with the plan to narrow Hwy. 41A to calm traffic. Construction could begin as early as next spring. The conceptual design for the Village Green was completed earlier in the year and was currently being “costed out” to determine the scope of the fundraising campaign that would be needed. And, although the mixed-use food market was currently “on pause,” since attracting retailers was difficult in the sluggish COVID-19 economy, Gladu saw a possible economic boon to the fifth priority project, housing. He speculated low-interest rates could help move the housing initiative forward. All five projects are “on track for substantial completion by 2022,” according to Gladu.

Touching on related initiatives, Gladu said the University had created a fund to provide relief to businesses on the Domain. Three distributions would be made to applicants, the first in mid-September.

Gladu also announced a new business had opened in Sewanee, Village Nutrition, located at 12569 Sollace M. Freeman Highway (Hwy. 41A).