Morehouse School of Medicine Announced Phased Return to Campus Plan

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Monday, May 18th, 2020

Morehouse School of Medicine is beginning a highly structured, phased return to its campus to “live out its unique mission” to deliver primary care to underserved and minority communities which have been devastated by COVID-19 in Georgia and across the country, the institution announced. The institution has been operating as a virtual campus since March 23.

After providing COVID-19 testing to faculty and staff May 11-15, the medical school is launching a two-week pilot program utilizing staggered work schedules and class instruction following social distancing guidelines and other actions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Just as our graduates cannot truly master their craft without touching patients, peering through a microscope or engaging community, we cannot truly prepare them for the challenge of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic or other future health crises without demonstrating, in person, the best practices for testing, treating and contract tracing,” said President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD. “Ours is an evidence-based, data-driven approach and is the result of a rigorous planning process.”

Testing is conducted by Color, a leading health technology company that offers COVID-19 workforce testing and risk management programs with employers across the U.S., including the City of San Francisco. Through the collaboration, Color is providing integrated software to manage risk screening, test ordering, onsite and distributed testing logistics, processing of samples, results delivery, case management, and public health agency case reporting to support contact tracing. Color’s COVID-19 Essential Workforce Testing Program is based on Color’s work in distributed clinical testing and healthcare services with over 100 large employers globally.

“Morehouse School of Medicine is at the forefront of implementing a responsible, evidence-based return-to-work program.” said Color CEO Othman Laraki. “Across the country, leaders in the public and private sector will need to implement programs that help prevent the workplace from being a context for COVID-19 contagion. Under President Montgomery Rice’s leadership, we are excited to partner with MSM as one of the institutions who are establishing a model to bring our country back to work.”

After the pilot, the medical school will initiate a second phase beginning June 1 to bring back all faculty, students and staff in what it hopes will serve as a “model” to guide the re-opening of other academic institutions around the country.  Individuals receive their results from Color, and if someone at the school tests positive for COVID-19, they will receive quarantine guidance and a referral to the Georgia Department of Public Health for contact tracing.

A recent study completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 305 Georgians being treated for COVID-19 found that 83 percent of the more serious cases were among African Americans. African Americans make up about 12 percent of the country’s population, but where racial breakdown data is available, they comprise 52 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 56 percent of all deaths. In a study published by MSM last week, researchers found the higher the percentage of black people in a Georgia county’s population, the higher the county’s COVID-19 rate is; race had a significant relationship with the disease even when accounting for other factors – a county’s level of uninsured people, poverty and population density.

“As doctors and academicians, we know that there are many systemic challenges to health care delivery in minority communities with higher incidences of heart disease, diabetes and obesity that may be contributing to more COVID-19 deaths among African Americans,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said. “We have not made the choice to return to campus lightly, but we must live out our unique mission to give our students the hands-on instruction they will need to care for the people we are committed to serve. Color’s Workforce Testing Program gives us the best tools available to ensure our teams’ health and safety and to contribute to the effort of getting our country back to work.”