Members of the Carleton community who frequently read the COVID-19 update emails will have noticed that each email contains a mention of how the decisions regarding COVID-19 have been made “in consultation with [Carleton’s] epidemiologist,” but little information has been provided on this figure. The Carletonian decided to seek out more information about who exactly has been making decisions about COVID-19 for Carleton.
Ben Miller, Ph.D. is the Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at the Acheson Group, a group of experts that consult on food safety and public health. He was hired by the Carleton COVID-19 Core Team, a group of employees including Dean Livingston, Vice President and Treasurer Eric Runestad and others who make decisions regarding COVID-19, in consultation with the Tuesday Group, Carleton’s senior leadership group. Before starting at the Acheson Group, he worked for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Until 2005, he was an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health, which is presumably why he was chosen as Carleton’s epidemiologist.
A graduate of Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, Miller has spent the last nearly 20 years working on issues of food safety and public health. He has published on the subject of food safety, and specializes in various food safety areas. He was employed for just over 11 years at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and before that, he was employed as an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health until 2005. His Ph.D. research was on the subject of making food more traceable through the supply chain to help mitigate foodborne illness.
Miller works with the COVID-19 Core Team, joining their regular meetings when needed and communicating with them by email when advice is needed on a shorter timeline. The COVID-19 Core Team considers his advice as they make decisions, although some COVID-19 related decisions need to be approved by the Tuesday Group who communicate with President Byerly to make decisions. Decisions made by the Core Team are also based on data from the county, the state, the CDC and events at similar colleges. Dean Livingston described the goal of the COVID-19 Core Team as “continuing in-person operations while limiting transmission of the virus on campus.”
Miller often offers a variety of approaches to resolving the same issue, varying in how conservative the recommendations are. These recommendations are then deliberated while keeping in mind “our own unique community needs and circumstances and available resources,” said Dean Livingston in an email to The Carletonian. Other medical and college health professionals have also been consulted at times.
Miller is a contractor for the school, and Carleton covers all associated costs using budget carryover from last year which was allocated for the purpose of managing COVID-19. Other costs included in that budget include COVID-19 tests and hotel rooms for quarantined students.
The Carletonian inquired about reaching out to Miller for comment but was told his contact information could not be shared.