Wittenberg Faculty and Staff:
I hope all of you, your loved ones, and friends are safe and healthy. COVID-19 continues to challenge all of us in a variety of ways. One of the challenges is uncertainty. We do not know where the trajectory of the virus will go and how it will affect us, as individuals and as a community.
I am grateful for all the work that faculty and staff have put in over the last weeks to prepare campus for the return of students and the beginning of classes on August 17. They have worked diligently, thoughtfully, and carefully. They have reviewed guidance, often changing, sometimes conflicting, from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Clark County Combined Health District (CCCHD), and others. They have sought expertise on-campus and off-campus. They have researched, participated in webinars, talked to colleagues at other institutions, and kept the health and safety of our community in mind as they developed plans and standards, and looked to mitigate risks for what will be a very different fall semester.
We are cautiously moving toward fall semester with new health and safety measures in place. It will take the commitment of everyone in our community to follow these guidelines. As has been the case throughout, we will need to maintain some flexibility as things change, which we know they will. As state and local guidance and directives evolve, we will discover things that work as planned and some that do not, and our campus learning and living environment will need to adapt.
Students will begin a phased return to campus with RAs arriving on July 31 and continuing in a phased approach through the weekend before classes begin. We have prepared, we have planned, we have consulted with experts in order to be ready. We have enhanced our campus cleaning protocols and reconfigured spaces. We have set expectations for distancing and face coverings. We should anticipate that some in our community will contract the virus. We will be there to help them find the right resources and to continue to offer our students the opportunity to learn and grow. Unexpected things will happen. We will continue to update and refine our plans and procedures as we prepare for the return of students and throughout the semester in response to changing circumstances.
A safe environment is our priority. There is inherent risk in all activities; however, we have been intentional in reviewing and planning, alongside health experts, a return to campus that mitigates much of this risk. Health professionals continue to remind us that the most important things we can do are:
- Take personal responsibility to self-identify your health status, including a daily temperature check.
- Maintain personal hygiene on campus, including regular hand washing.
- Wear face coverings except when in your own private working or living areas with no one else present.
- Keep personal work surfaces and common touch points clean and sanitized regularly.
- Embrace social distancing standards at all times.
In recent weeks, a few people have asked specifically about testing. Guidance from ODH and the CDC recommends testing on campuses only for those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and all close contacts of those who have been diagnosed with the disease. The Cleveland Clinic has also provided this recommendation. We will adhere to that guidance. Test availability and turnaround time have been a challenge in our area. With CCCHD, the health professionals on our COVID-19 Response Team (CRT), and others, we have worked with local partners to identify the best process for Wittenberg. It may change as new information and new possibilities emerge.
We know that almost everything about this fall will be different. We are going to have to think differently about time, space, and how we do our work. We know that the classroom, laboratory, and studio experiences with be different. We know our students who perform – on stages, in ensembles, on fields and courts – will not have the same opportunities. We also know other campus student organizations and activities will be limited in their scope. Still, I remain optimistic that we will be ready to provide safe classrooms, programming, engagement, and support for all of our students to create the best possible holistic Wittenberg experience that students expect from us.
Like you, I wish we had all the answers. We will continue to refine approaches as necessary. We have to learn to live with this. Central to the success of our planning is a community-wide commitment to uphold health practices and guidelines. As we proceed, please continue to check the WITT-We’re In This Together website for health expectations and updates, and thank you again for your dedication to Wittenberg during this challenging time.
Michael L. Frandsen, Ph.D.