November 18, 2020
Dear Members of the University Community,
As I announced
last month, we are making plans to open our doors as widely as possible for the spring semester.
We learned a lot the past 100 days. Above all, we learned that an effective response to COVID-19 requires more than any one measure. To keep our community safe, we launched a web of responses and initiatives, drawing on the experience and competence of our entire community, and we implemented them with the cooperation of our faculty, staff, and students, as well as the District’s Department of Health. I am so proud of how this community has come together to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. I want to thank everyone for their contributions in the work of keeping our community safe.
Since August we conducted more than 1,700 PCR tests. Fifty-six students living on campus and 80 students living off campus tested positive. No student has been hospitalized; all have fully recovered. Even in the midst of rising infections elsewhere, these numbers give us confidence to take one more step forward in opening up our campus.
In the spring we anticipate holding a majority of our undergraduate classes in person (or, for those unable to attend, in a hybrid fashion). And we have invited all our undergraduate students (not just freshmen) to apply for single-occupancy housing. We expect to fill all of our available rooms. Though we will conduct campus activities with all the precautions I describe below, we hope to bring our academic and student life environment far closer to pre-COVID days.
Because we are inviting all of our students back to campus, we will not offer a tuition discount this spring.
In anticipation of these developments, I want to share with you some more details of our plans for next semester, and invite your continued communication and support as we navigate our way into 2021.
1. Key Dates
There is no Spring Break. We will have classes on Holy Thursday and Easter Monday, but not Good Friday.
For faculty and staff, the Holy Thursday and Easter Monday paid holidays have been moved to December 21 and 22, providing employees the entire week of December 21 as paid time off.
It is too soon to know what commencement might look like, so we will wait until the new year before making a decision. Right now the District’s restrictions would keep us from having a traditional commencement. While we hope for the best, we are thinking about alternatives to our traditional ceremony on the east side of the Basilica.
This is our paramount concern. Our plans and policies reflect this emphasis on the safety of our community.
Initial Testing and Quarantine: When students return to campus for the spring semester, everyone living on campus will be required to take a COVID-19 test. We will ask all student residents to quarantine for the first two weeks, and we will move all classes online during that period.
Respect. Protect.: We will continue to promote the best defenses against COVID: hand-washing, keeping a distance of six feet, and masks. We provide reminders everywhere to include postings and directional signs on the floors of heavily-trafficked areas.
10-Person Limit: We will continue to ask our students to respect the District’s limit of 10 persons in non-academic gatherings. As good neighbors we must be mindful of those members of the Brookland community who might be in higher risk categories.
Daily symptom checker: All students, faculty, and staff will be asked to continue to fill out the daily symptom checker. It is not a diagnostic tool but a tool to review possible symptoms of the virus and prompt a person to be tested. We have found that continual vigilance with respect to the virus helps us monitor its prevalence within our community and provides us with early warnings of possible outbreaks. The symptom checker has led to many early medical interventions.
Professors may require students to show the large green check mark to be admitted to class. Responses are erased at the end of the day, and each day’s result is stamped with the date.
In planning for more people on campus this spring, we consulted with public health experts in the District for guidance on the most effective ways to build out our testing scheme. We plan to nearly triple our testing capacity this spring, and add more screening tests.
Screening tests are conducted on members of our community who do not have symptoms. They give us important information on the prevalence of the virus, and help to prevent and contain outbreaks. Here is the basic testing scheme we will follow.
The Student Testing Center in Mill North will continue to test students with symptoms, and those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
This facility can test 200 students per week. This gives us the opportunity to administer screening tests in addition to the symptomatic testing, so that all 200 tests are used every week. We will randomly select students to come in for the quick and painless test.
As we did in the fall, we will comply with the NCAA requirement to test in-season athletes. These tests, administered by the Department of Athletics, will constitute about 200 additional student tests per week.
Faculty and staff
As an additional measure to keep our campus safe, we will add COVID-19 screening tests for a rotating population of staff and faculty at a
testing center to be set up in Pryz 351. In addition, faculty whose classes experienced COVID-19 outbreaks will be offered the opportunity to be tested at this location.
We will not offer routine testing of faculty and staff who are experiencing symptoms. In extraordinary circumstances, a staff or faculty member who might experience symptoms while on campus may obtain a self-testing kit from the Student Health Center, follow the directions, and submit a sample directly to the lab.
Those who experience symptoms at home, or who sense the possibility of being infected, should not come to work. They should go directly to their personal health care provider, who can administer the necessary test and manage the follow up.
All students who test positive will be treated by Student Health Services and supported by the Dean of Students.
Campus residents who test positive will be temporarily moved out of their residence hall and into the recovery housing area in Mill South. This system worked well this fall, thanks in large part to the cooperative spirit of our students and the dedication of the Residence Life and Student Affairs teams.
Faculty and staff who are tested on campus will be able to take their results directly to their health care providers.
Close contacts of anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to follow the 14-day quarantine policy.
We have taken the following measures to ensure that our classrooms are safe environments for students and faculty.
- Re-mapped every classroom and adjusted capacity to ensure enough space for everyone to maintain a safe distance.
- Reconfigured every classroom for flow in and out
- Installed ventilation or filtration enhancements.
- Installed acrylic shields between professors and students as one more barrier to stop the spread of the virus.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols so that we clean every classroom after every class.
- Installed new audio and video technology in virtually all academic spaces. This will allow us to offer classes in a hybrid manner to accommodate students who are sick or still working from home.
We will extend our COVID-19 Work From Home policy through March. We initiated this program last spring as a response to the virus. This program allows up to 2-3 days of working from home for employees whose duties and supervisors permit. It keeps on-campus density at a safe level while holding on to the sense of community and collaboration that is so important to our workforce.
Annual and semester parking permits for University employees, students living on campus, and commuter students will be discounted 50% for the spring semester. Temporary and 2-day/week permits will remain at the same prices as last year.
7. Student Experience
All of us are committed to restoring the residential student experience we value on this campus. We are making progress in many areas to reintroduce many important aspects of campus life.
The Library, which has been available to students this semester, will continue to expand access while maintaining safety. We have maintained our sacramental life (distanced, of course). In the spring semester we expect to expand intramurals, and to have our varsity athletes compete in more than 20 sports. The Counseling Center and the Center for Academic and Career Success look forward to increased student presence. They will also maintain the ability to respond to students who might not be on campus.
Recent days have brought encouraging reports of progress on the vaccination front. FDA approval of a vaccine would allow us to believe that the end of the pandemic is in sight. That happy day won’t occur soon enough to affect our planning for this spring. Even when a vaccine becomes available, it will be distributed first to people who are most at risk.
Meanwhile the course of the virus is unpredictable, as the current spike in infections shows. Safety will remain our first priority. We must be prepared to change our responses if conditions warrant. The plans we have laid have benefited from the input of hundreds of members of our community. I encourage you to continue helping with suggestions or questions through email@example.com.