Annual Conference will be virtual – and other COVID-19 response

March 11, 2020

March 11, 2020, 4:06 p.m. -- email message to all extension staff, faculty and councils

Over the past several weeks, Iowa State University has been monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus. I am writing to you today to address two ways that ISU Extension and Outreach is responding to the increasing concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 in Iowa.

Annual Conference will be virtual

One concern related to the spread of COVID-19 is whether to bring a large group of people together in an enclosed space. The university is encouraging actions to inhibit, rather than accelerate, the spread of the virus by reducing the number of university events that bring together, in close proximity, large numbers of people.

As a result, we have decided to change the format for our April 1 ISU Extension and Outreach Annual Conference. The conference will not be face-to-face in Ames. Instead, we will adapt the conference and provide it virtually across the state on April 1.

We encourage you to watch and participate in Annual Conference at your county office or from your home, if you are unable to attend at your county office. We are working with our keynote speakers and developing a revised agenda, likely with a shorter virtual morning session, a working lunch/discussion session in county offices, and a virtual closing session. We still intend to honor our award recipients and raffle off prizes for participants. We will post the virtual agenda on the conference website and notify you as soon as possible.

We will hold the informational webinar for county staff about the ISU insurance plan on April 1. We also will hold an informational webinar for ISU employees about retirement planning, but it may be later. More information will be coming soon.

The registration fee for the virtual conference will be $20 and registration remains open. Everyone who has already registered for the face-to-face conference is automatically registered for the virtual conference. You will be refunded $55 ($75 face-to-face registration - $20 virtual registration = $55). Anyone who has not previously registered for the face-to-face conference may register for the virtual conference at the $20 price.

We will provide the best virtual Annual Conference experience we can, given the circumstances related to COVID-19. We thank you for your understanding and support.

Other educational offering and events across the state

Today President Wintersteen announced that following spring break, ISU is moving classes online for March 23-April 3, but the university will remain open for business. I am not cancelling all ISU Extension and Outreach face-to-face educational offerings and events as a central decision. However, organizers should use good judgment when deciding whether to provide face-to-face education. If you decide to cancel, I will support you. Consider these questions:

  • The number of people and the location affect the risk. Is your location large enough to allow social distancing space (6 feet is optimal) between participants?
  • Is it a large group? Whether 30 people are meeting on campus or 200 people are attending a conference, there is no “magic number” that’s guaranteed to be safe, but fewer is better than more.
  • Are your participants coming from multiple counties or multiple states or are they local?
  • Are your participants at a higher risk for COVID-19? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19.
  • What is the risk within the population attending, or in the location where your offering is held?
  • Follow County Public Health advice. What are other community entities doing? Are local schools, churches, and businesses open or closed?
  • What is the impact of canceling or postponing? For example, if an offering involves required certification for clients, there may be few or no alternatives to face-to-face.
  • Is your event open to members of the general public and does not require attendees to register? Or, do you have attendance lists, and clear opportunities to reach out to those who would attend?
  • Is there another way to provide the education? Can you reschedule your event or repurpose the offering – such as providing it virtually, as we are doing with Annual Conference?

Conditions are changing rapidly, and we will learn more about the spread and impact of this disease in the coming days. I suggest making decisions on events through early April but withholding judgment on later events until we know more.

Decisions by the State of Iowa or Board of Regents may change the guidance I’ve included in this message or trump local decisions, so please stay tuned. Continue to check the campus safety page for updated information about the COVID-19 outbreak and the university’s response. The health and wellbeing of our communities and our staff is our highest concern. In ISU Extension and Outreach, we have survived floods and droughts and other disasters, and we will survive COVID-19.

John Lawrence
Vice President for Extension and Outreach