As we get closer to the start of the spring semester, I want to provide a bit more information as well as remind you of several important things we have sent over interim.
We are soberly aware that new strains of the virus present additional challenges. While we have not yet confirmed that these new strains are present in our campus population we are seeing more students testing positive among our early arrivals than we did last fall. Students are testing positive during the pre-arrival, arrival and post-arrival monitoring phases. Clearly, something that spreads easily presents unique issues in congregate housing environments such as residential campuses. As we navigate the spring semester together, we must all operate from the same place of caring for our own and each other’s safety. Let’s begin by committing to wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. These two strategies have repeatedly proven to limit spread of this disease.
Many have asked whether being on campus will be fun or feel “normal.” Nothing feels normal in our current environment, and fun is a state of mind. You can be on campus, follow our guidelines, and still have meaningful interactions with others. It requires rethinking fun, rethinking normal, and rethinking our priorities.
Each of you was required to sign the Pard Pledge before coming to campus, and you really need to commit to the actions contained in that pledge. The very health and safety of our community will be determined by the individual choices each of us makes. As the risk to our community for failing to follow the guidelines is significant, students should expect that being sent home is a very real outcome for violations. Observe the physical distance guidelines, limit as much as possible in-person activities, and work to keep your circle of close contacts as small as possible. Most importantly, always wear your mask on campus.
Strategies for a healthy campus
The College has developed a multi-pronged strategy to reduce the risk of widespread outbreaks. We are combining critical behaviors such as mask wearing and physical distancing with a weekly testing schedule for all students, faculty, and staff on campus and a daily survey for every member of the community to monitor your own health and check for symptoms. These strategies are combined with the deployment of campus contact tracers and protocols for isolation and quarantine. Testing each week is intended to rapidly identify if and where we have active cases so we can quickly isolate and quarantine potentially impacted individuals. Weekly testing is not a ticket to abandon actions such as masking and limiting your time in close proximity with others. The most important person in this equation is you. Your commitment to following the guidelines will help keep you and everyone else safer. You can stay completely informed about our testing and active case counts on the COVID-19 dashboard.
Managing the campus environment
We also have adopted a mitigation plan that explains what might trigger additional community restrictions and what restrictions would be put in place at each level. This is very much a living document and requires updating as we learn more about threats from new strains and observe behaviors within our community.
We deployed a form to report COVID-19 rule violations or behaviors that place others at risk. While this helped, we recognized that allowing anonymous reporting eliminated our ability to follow up, explain our actions or request additional information. This setting is now changed. You can still file the report online, but we must have your name and contact information for followup. You can be confident that your name will not be shared with other students.
You also play an important role with your peers directly. We must all be willing to help regulate behavior by asking others to use their masks and to maintain physical distancing.
We understand that information available nationally and at the state level regarding vaccines has generated confusion and anxiety for many. Information on the vaccination plan for Pennsylvania is available here. We will cooperate with local health networks as much as possible to share information about vaccination sites and pathways to pre-register for vaccines when they are available to you.
The College is not authorized by the state to administer vaccines on site. While this may be an option in the future, particularly as states work to develop more large-scale vaccination sites, there is no guarantee that we will be able to offer vaccinations on campus this spring. You should be in conversation with your family doctor about your health needs and be sure you have carefully considered whether learning from campus is the right decision for you. If you need information about the vaccination plans for both local health networks, please visit St. Luke’s University Health Network or Lehigh Valley Health Network.
In order to maintain a consistent environment, everyone on campus, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks and follow all other directions related to COVID-19.
Remember, the very health and safety of our community will be determined by the individual choices each of us makes. We’re all in this together, and it’s vital that we look out for each other.
Vice President for Campus Life