August begins this weekend with our first group of students moving into residence halls and increased activity in our preparations for the fall semester. Our semester is proceeding against a continual news stream of infection and hospitalization rates, medical updates regarding testing and vaccine development, and evolving plans from local K-12 schools to large, national universities. The ongoing fluidity of our circumstances place stress not just on students, but on our faculty and staff, many of whom are responding to both the needs of the College and those of their families. We know that continued flexibility remains important for them as well as our students.
Although some schools and many universities have recently announced a shift to complete online instruction, we are moving forward with our blend of on-campus and online activity. Unlike our local schools, our class sizes are significantly smaller, our students older, our faculty-student ratios lower, and our facilities more conducive to the blend of instruction for which our faculty and staff have prepared. Our approach to campus residencies, hybrid instruction, and flexible work arrangements will significantly reduce campus density. At the college/university level, many of the institutions that have announced remote-only instructional plans are still offering some on-campus teaching and learning, advising, residential living, and recreational activities. The collaborative work of our faculty and staff has put us in an enviable position, as we are increasingly well prepared to provide a range of campus and remote learning experiences. Our intention of providing engaging, meaningful, and inclusive learning experiences continues to result in considerable measures to mitigate the risks posed by Covid-19.
Those measures include securing testing equipment that will enable Westminster to conduct free, on-campus Covid-19 testing for students, which will begin on August 3 with our early arrival residential students. Test results will be available that day, often within 20 minutes. All residential students will be required to provide a negative test result before move-in, either within 72 hours of coming to campus if conducted off campus, or on-campus when they arrive. Students with a positive COVID-19 test will be required to quarantine for 10 days before moving into their campus residence or attending in-person classes and events.
We realize that test results only reflect a moment in time, and that even with a negative test result, an individual can contract the virus immediately after taking the test or may have already contracted the virus before it can be identified through testing. So, while a negative Covid-19 test will give us a useful baseline among our residential students, the behaviors we adopt over the coming months will be far more important in reducing risk.
First, know that the adherence to requirements regarding face coverings, social distancing, and other Covid-19 related policies are expected by every member of our community, consistent with other required conduct on campus. We will be providing brief, online training modules regarding current safety protocols and policies before classes begin and expect all faculty and staff to complete those modules by August 31. Mitigating risk is a community responsibility; please read the College’s statement regarding Assumption of Risk, which describes shared agreements regarding the risk on campus and the effort the College is making to mitigate the risk consistent with health-authority-recommended practices.
Second, we ask that everyone open and read the emails and weekly Preparing for Fall Semester newsletters with information about campus expectations and actions. (I recognize the irony of emphasizing the need to read your email – in an email). Many of the questions asked in open forums can be answered with reference to those communications and our campus Covid-19 webpage.
Third, all staff, students and faculty must participate in symptom checking and contact tracing. Utah’s Healthy Together app is an excellent resource for symptom checking and related health information, and within the next two weeks we will be launching a contact tracing app that will provide you with timely notification of potential exposure while preserving individual anonymity and privacy. Please look for more information about this app in the coming week.
By next week, some students will already have moved onto campus, and all students will know the primary mode of delivery for each of their courses. Within the next two weeks, and for both those who have been on campus all summer and those who are returning, we will have “welcome to campus” packages that include hand sanitizer and a Westminster face mask. Orientation will also have begun for new students. Shortly thereafter, our fall semester will be in full swing – albeit with many creative and flexible responses to the health and safety needs of our community.
Throughout the summer, I’ve seen incredible energy and optimism in managing the uncertainty of the present while also looking toward a promising future. Thank you for your care, commitment, and support of our students and each other through this stressful and challenging time.