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University COVID-19 Update

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EU directors and members speak on their situation in July and answer related questions.

by Lee Freeland

In a July 23 webinar, the Elevator U (EU) Board of Directors, representing five universities in the U.S. and Canada, discussed and updated attendees on what is happening at their academic facilities related to the COVID-19 pandemic and fall opening. Eddie Morris of the University of Virginia (UV) began by explaining that his in-house maintenance crews worked from home when possible beginning in mid-March. “As many other universities, we’re in financial crisis,” he said. However, 90% of students were expected to return when doors opened mid-August.

Chairman Martin Culp of the University of Maryland also said its students were told not to come back in March. Culp had the contractor provide the university with exclusive technicians, at least two at any given time, although there was little activity on campus. Employees went back to full-time work in July, though elevator shop workers were on staggered shifts. Plans for this fall are for a hybrid curriculum. Brad Haldeman of Penn State University said his school is in a similar situation. He added that a group on campus is working with its elevator technicians to put different chemicals on buttons, test their antiviral effectiveness, then swap buttons and repeat the process indefinitely to find what works best. The on-campus student count is likely to be limited to 8,900.

Long-time member Terri McMahon of the University of Michigan (UM) explained that, in addition to following all state COVID-19-related protocols, a stay-at-home order was put in place, and only two elevator technicians were on campus. They were also not allowed to work together; all two-man work was deferred, as were inspections and tests. Now that safety tests have resumed, they are conducted with technicians wearing both safety masks and face shields. This is, at least, a good chance for preventive maintenance on otherwise busy units to be undertaken, she added. For the fall, any class considered “large” will be virtual. “Medium” will be hybrid, and labs will be in-person, but diminished attendance to allow for 6-ft social distancing will apply. The campus hospital elevators have been busy, as the maximum capacity of any unit is four, denoted by signage in each elevator. Some smaller units may allow only a single rider. This means “a lot more wear and tear on the equipment, so preventive maintenance has become more important than it normally is,” she explained, adding that UM is also in a budget crisis.

Steve Pydynowski of Illinois State University (ISU) said its contractor continued to have onsite technicians, while other employees worked from home. It also expects fewer students to come back in the fall and live on campus, making the load on the elevators lighter. There will no longer be quad-occupancy rooms, and some rooms will be designated as quarantine rooms.

Dave Sweet of York University in Toronto said, “I think we have a lot of the same issues as the American universities.” It has three elevator mechanics onsite who worked throughout the pandemic, and tradespeople worked in staggered shifts in five zones. They have since returned full-time, and provincial inspections are back in full swing. Five thousand students are expected to return to live on campus in the fall, but most classes will be online. Building-wise, approximately 25% will be used next semester, a figure in line with other Canadian universities.

A question-and-answer session then took place. One was posed about placing such items as hand sanitizer in the car. Culp, McMahon and Tom Sybert of C.J. Anderson & Co. explained that ASME A17.1 disallows anything that does not pertain to operation of the elevator to remain inside the car.

Another asked how the revised number of passengers in a car is calculated. McMahon answered that the square footage of the car is divided by six.
Fielding a question about cab air sanitization and UV-C products, McMahon said UM budgetary concerns are not allowing their purchase there.

Pydynowski said ISU is in a similar situation and was still in the investigation stage of which product(s) may be the most prudent to purchase. Morris said UV has apparently determined that air-filtrations will give “the best bang for the buck.” Pydynowski explained that at ISU, they have been covering all operating panels with plastic, which can be cleaned, instead of having to spray the buttons and risk damage.

Sybert wrapped up the talk by saying professionals should wear masks, wash hands and try not to overreact, while promoting this behavior to others. The full webinar is available at bit.ly/3hOL9EW.

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