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The day after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Montgomery County, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and her senior leadership team assembled a Coronavirus Advisory Team (CAT). The group, composed of key employees from health sciences and emergency management, monitors developments and provides expertise to ensure the College community stays healthy and safe.

Zoom meeting screenshot with Montgomery College staffSince its inception, the CAT has spent countless hours, working from early morning to late at night, issuing recommendations to senior leadership regarding social distancing measures, from moving to remote learning and teaching to closing buildings to avoid the spread of the virus. CAT member Dr. Monique Davis, collegewide instructional dean of health sciences and director of nursing, said, “We are the behind-the-scenes crew.”

Another CAT member, Dr. Rebecca Thomas, chair of biology at the Rockville Campus, spends her days perusing new research on COVID-19. These are the same abstracts used by the Centers for Disease and Control to update—and inform—the country. “I try to think to about how this [research] applies to the work we are doing and how it provides people with high-quality scientific projections that can help with planning,” Dr. Thomas said.

“We take the information that Rebecca [Dr. Thomas] is giving us and think about how we can anticipate the next steps. We are always anticipating—always trying to stay ahead of the game,” said CAT member Melissa Sprague.  Sprague, a registered nurse for more than 30 years who is also an MC alumna, is the interim chair of Health Sciences.

Having this holistic approach with the research background and the medical background, we are able to tackle some of these complex problems

Health care experts Davis, Thomas, and Sprague work closely with public safety authorities Carlo Sanchez, interim assistant director of public safety at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, and Adam Reid, Clery compliance manager, both of whom bring nearly 20 years of emergency management experience to the team.

 “Operationally, I have to consider how each decision will impact not only facilities on our campuses and our off-campus locations, but also our overall public safety,” Sanchez said. He works with colleagues working at colleges and universities in Washington and Oregon to better prepare for what would be coming to Maryland. Meanwhile, Reid works daily with officials from Montgomery County. Having recently joined the College staff, Reid draws on 18 years of experience in crisis management and provides a unique perspective to the group.

“The collaboration from everybody on this team is awesome. We all meshed and the conversations are very fruitful,” Reid said. “Having this holistic approach with the research background and the medical background, we are able to tackle some of these complex problems. We don’t take action unless we are all on board—and we are able to do it quickly.”

The team reports to the president, College administrators, and the Communications team, among others.

Montgomery College staff preparing medical supplies
Monique Davis

“We have had to make some difficult recommendations. It was not easy to come to some of these resolutions ahead of what our colleagues at other institutions were doing,” Dr. Davis said. “But because the members were following the latest research, constantly connecting with the county, and observing what is happening at the state level, they knew it was best to send people home. We wanted to make decisions that were in the best interest of our employees and our students, and our community as a whole. When you make these decisions early, you might sound like an alarmist, but in hindsight, you’ve done the right thing,” she said.

As this unprecedented situation progresses, the CAT will continue working to support the MC community, not only through the process of reopening the College spaces for working and learning, but also through the fallout of the crisis. While the team focuses on next steps, its members lean on one another for support and reassurance during this crisis. They anticipate that MC students and employees will also need assistance coping long after the stay-at-home order is lifted.

“We will debrief. I imagine [officials from] academic affairs and human resources and strategic talent management will have advice about which resources were helpful—and which resources we need to offer,” Dr. Davis said. “We will also need to look at how business at the College continues and what emergency management planning we need to have. If the CAT is always one step ahead, now is the time to plan for the future.”

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