October 2, 2020
Dear colleagues and students:
It is my sincere hope that each of you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe as we continue to navigate extraordinary times.
The fall semester, although different from what we had planned and hoped for, has been a strong reminder that our Explorer community faces challenges with determination, commitment, and resilience, even amidst the uncertainty of rapidly changing circumstances. Our innovative faculty and talented staff continue to support our students and provide them with the high-quality learning experiences they have come to expect. And our students are meeting and exceeding their academic goals, making progress toward earning degrees with transformational qualities. This has not been easy. In fact, none of this is easy.
Our commitment to protecting the health of our community remains unchanged. At every turn, we have placed safety at the center of our planning for this semester. The same promise holds true for the spring.
As you know, contributions and feedback offered by hundreds of our students and colleagues, paired with immeasurable hours volunteered by leaders across our campus, helped generate a comprehensive return plan that earned approval from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
To that end, I would like to provide an update on our plans for the Spring 2021 semester.
We are planning for a return to an on-campus, residential experience for the Spring 2021 semester with a mix of in-person and remote courses. Our planning will require adherence to public health guidelines from the city and state by everyone who maintains a campus presence, and will also accommodate the personal circumstances of our students and colleagues. While we recognize that this will not be a ‘normal’ semester, I am confident we are all up to the task.
Since our decision to move to a mostly remote format for fall, we have seen progress in some of the key areas we cited: Improvements in testing and contact tracing capacity have allowed for a gradual reintroduction to some semblance of work and life. Additionally, case counts and positivity rates locally have stabilized and remain relatively low.
We have also benefitted and learned from our colleagues at other institutions about what has worked—and, just as importantly, what hasn’t—as they returned to in-person living, learning, and operations. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has adapted guidance and procedures based on the outbreaks that they have seen on college campuses. Whether regionally or nationally, the colleges and universities that returned to their respective campuses this semester experienced varied results in mitigating COVID-19’s spread, managing contact tracing, and executing their return plans. We will look to apply lessons learned from these institutions.
Areas for improvement and timeline
While the return plan we developed for fall remains largely intact, we have continued to strengthen and improve key components of the plan based on what we’ve learned about how a college campus can operate in the age of COVID-19.
Just last week, our students received a short survey from Dr. Steven Siconolfi, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Dawn Soufleris, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. I am grateful to the students who completed the survey, as we gather more information about your needs and preferences regarding academic modality, campus housing, and more.
Planning structure for spring
The Incident Command Advisory (ICA), which has shepherded our immediate response to the pandemic, as well as long-range forecasting and return planning, has expanded its membership to include nearly two-dozen cross-functional leaders at our University. The scope of its work, also, has evolved. In particular, ICA has adopted eight critically important workstreams in areas that span academics, communication, facilities, and health and wellness, among others. Each workstream has a corresponding working group, and these working groups and the expanded ICA will comprise the pandemic preparedness task force that is supporting our spring semester planning.
While the ICA continues to act as the hub for assembling and evaluating critical information to inform rapid response and longer-term planning, the reporting and operating structure has been improved to ensure better communication and accountability in the workflow.
We are at the outset of autumn. As the air grows crisp, we will be forced to abandon outdoor events and activities and move our gatherings indoors. Additionally, public health experts have begun discussing the complications we may witness and experience as a result of the similar symptoms shared by the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19.
More than ever, it will be important to receive a flu vaccine this season. The University is coordinating two separate on-campus vaccine clinics—Thursday, Oct. 8 and Wednesday, Oct. 14. More information, including how to reserve your spot, will follow. For those unable to visit campus on these dates, please consider getting a flu shot this year to keep yourself, your family, and our community as healthy as possible.
Next week, we will reach the final phase in our employee return plan, welcoming back our Phase 4 employees on a staggered schedule to ensure physical distancing within our offices. As a reminder to anyone who is on campus, face coverings are required, whether indoors or outdoors. Practice physical distancing at all times. Wash or sanitize your hands regularly. Avoid social gatherings. Remember, viral spread is possible in all gatherings, whether in large or small settings.
We need to continue acting respectfully and responsibly. We need to continue working together to keep ourselves and each other as safe and healthy as possible.
Thank you for your continuing efforts to ensure a campus environment that is safe, productive, and Lasallian.
Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.