To the Lafayette Community:

I hope that you all are well, wherever you may be studying or working: in your home, in an office, on campus, or wherever bandwidth can be optimized. I also hope you are taking time to care for yourself as we all cope with the stresses and demands of the pandemic. I write with an update on how things are going at Lafayette so far this fall and a timeline for decision making about the spring semester.

Our goals continue to be protecting the health and safety of our community and providing a substantive academic experience to our students. This semester, as you know, that means operating with all courses online and a reduced presence on campus. We hope to announce a plan for the spring on Oct. 20, in advance of major student decisions regarding registration and living arrangements that will need to be finalized in early November. 

We all recognize the challenges of remote instruction and support for faculty, staff, and students, but the community is finding many ways to address those challenges successfully. Faculty have worked to build variety and flexibility into their course formats and to provide opportunities for the kinds of active learning and informal connections that happen naturally in a Lafayette classroom. The Office of Advising has developed programs specifically designed to aid students in adapting to these learning modalities. The Counseling Center has enhanced programming focused on issues like social isolation and anxiety. At the same time, students are continuing to adapt to the remote learning environment and are providing valuable feedback as we continue to work to deepen their learning experience.

Testing, mask wearing, physical distancing, and social-gathering restrictions have so far kept our on-campus population of about 650 students safe. Every student who came to campus was tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, and a randomly selected group of students (approximately 15 percent of the population) continues to be tested weekly. Each morning, all students living on College Hill, and any faculty and staff who plan to be on campus that day, are asked to complete a daily symptom check questionnaire. Our contact tracing efforts have proved very successful in identifying students, faculty or staff who have come in close contact with an individual with a confirmed positive test, and those identified readily self-quarantined for two weeks.

Our dining protocols include new safety training, seating that ensures physical distancing, and enhanced sanitation measures in all open locations. A new mobile ordering app, Transact Campus, facilitates contactless payment and meal pick-up.

The results so far have been very favorable. Since students started arriving on campus, our positive infection rate is under 0.6 percent. Our COVID-19 dashboard is updated daily, and our full complement of spaces identified as isolation housing remains available.

While we are pleased with this initial success, there is no guarantee we will sustain these low infection rates throughout the rest of the semester. As you have probably seen in the media, a number of college and university campuses nationwide have had to shut down or implement campus-wide quarantines as a result of infection. That said, there are also many schools that seem to be doing well with a higher density of students on campus, and we are tracking their results with the goal of learning what strategies have been most effective. With many variables such as geographic location, population size, and proportion of off-campus housing at play, we have seen that two colleges can make the same decisions and have completely different results.

As we develop our plan for the spring, we will learn from what has been successful in the experience of other colleges and universities while also taking into account new variables such as the potential threats of the cold and flu season and the logistical challenges to social distancing imposed by colder weather. 

We are currently exploring three spring scenarios: one that mirrors the current semester, one that includes an expanded student population on campus, and one that allows all students who wish to be on campus to return. In any of these scenarios, we plan to expand our testing regimen to include a combination of pre-arrival testing and arrival testing in combination with continued surveillance testing of a random sample of the population weekly. We will continue to ensure the availability of employee testing for those faculty and staff who will be on campus more regularly in the spring semester. 

It is likely that most courses will continue to be remote in the spring, but if we bring more students back we hope to provide opportunities for some classroom experiences. Finally, we will continue to monitor our community’s conduct regarding the guidelines for social distancing, mask wearing, and size of gatherings and consider what adjustments need to be made as we move forward. 

I want to thank you all for your continued patience and flexibility as we work to deliver a safe and productive learning experience for our students. I look forward to sharing our plans for the spring semester with you on Oct. 20. 

Alison R. Byerly