Covid-19 Planning Update: Our Approach to Fall Term

To: W&L Faculty, Staff and Students
From: Elizabeth Oliver, Steve McAllister and Sidney Evans
Date: June 26, 2020
Re: Covid-19 Planning Update: Our Approach to Fall Term

We know there is great interest in the university's plans for the upcoming academic year at Washington and Lee, and we hope this message will give you a better view of our preparations and next steps. This is not intended as a comprehensive listing of our activities, but rather an effort to shed light on some of the many changes anticipated this fall. We appreciate your flexibility and understanding during what is a very fluid situation.

Through the university's contingency planning task force, we have sought and received a great deal of input from the W&L community the past few months. The university's goal is a safe return to on-campus instruction this fall, provided government and health officials allow such a return. Our approach for the upcoming academic year strives to deliver our residential liberal arts experience on campus while reducing virus-related risks to the best of our ability. We do this while acknowledging we will also need to support and serve individuals for whom the on-campus, residential environment is not a viable option.

Progress to Date

Our approach to returning to on-campus instruction is based on the recommendations of our task force, which was appointed in April to develop a set of scenarios and options for the university's operations for the upcoming academic year. Through surveys, forums and direct solicitations, the task force reached across the W&L community to gather information and hear concerns regarding the various scenarios, as well as ideas on how to provide the highest quality education under each arrangement. You can read the task force's report online.

The disruption during the Winter and Spring Terms taught us many lessons, and we've applied that learning to improve our tools, techniques and partnerships on campus and elsewhere to prepare W&L for the Fall Term. Working groups composed of faculty, staff and students have been and continue to work diligently to evaluate, recommend and implement plans and best practices for health maintenance, instruction and learning, residence life and student activities, campus facilities and operations, admissions, and major events and athletics.

Safety is at the forefront of our preparations. Our own medical staff is partnering with regional and state medical experts to guide our plans. We're modifying spaces, processes and practices to promote the health of the W&L community. The university will be providing personal protective equipment to students, faculty and staff, as well as establishing protocols for COVID-19 testing, quarantine and isolation. We've reimagined daily interactions on campus, from classroom layouts to delivering dining options to enhanced cleaning protocols for campus buildings.

W&L's plan for returning students, faculty and staff to campus this academic year must be reviewed and approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The university has submitted the plan to SCHEV, and it is available pending state approval on our COVID-19 Resources website. President Dudley will announce the final decision on our approach to the academic year in July, based on the latest government and health guidance.

We are preparing for a Fall Term that will most certainly not be a return to normal. There are many areas where we've developed comprehensive protocols and plans, and others where we still have work to do. While our baseline approach is to return to on-campus instruction, we must also be ready to adapt should we need to conduct part or all of Fall Term via remote instruction.

Here are some key pieces of our approach to this fall:

Academic Calendar

  • In-person instruction for law classes starts August 17 and undergraduate classes begins August 24.
  • In the days ahead, Student Affairs staff will send communications to incoming first-year students with instructions regarding pre-orientation and orientation dates and activities.
  • Upper-division students will follow a phased move-in and will be notified of their move-in date by Student Affairs staff.
  • As previously communicated, our modified calendar for the Fall Term will not feature any breaks and will conclude by the Thanksgiving holiday. Students will not return to campus for Winter Term until the new year.

Face Coverings and Personal Protective Equipment

  • Current university community standards require that all students, faculty and staff wear face coverings when they are in public building spaces. In outdoor settings, face coverings are required in any location where six feet of social distancing cannot be met. We anticipate this requirement to remain in effect for the Fall Term.
  • A starter kit of personal protective equipment (PPE) will be provided to students. Details and ordering instructions will be sent to students via email by early July.
  • Faculty and staff will also receive a starter kit of personal protective equipment (PPE) and have the opportunity to purchase additional PPE at cost through the university. Details and ordering instructions will be shared with employees via email by early July.

Testing, Tracing and Responding

  • W&L is collaborating with the Virginia Department of Health and local public health officials to establish a COVID-19 disease surveillance, testing and contact tracing protocol that includes students, faculty and staff.
  • The University is working on a plan to test all students, faculty and student-facing staff for COVID-19 as students return to campus, followed by targeted and surveillance testing throughout the Fall Term.
  • Students, faculty and staff on campus will be expected to use a daily symptom checker app that will inform individuals with COVID-like symptoms what to do for assessment and care, and will assist with campus-wide monitoring for possible COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • The Student Health Center will provide assessment and care of students with symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection in an auxiliary clinic area, as well as providing other regular healthcare services with modifications to reduce COVID-19 risk.
  • We will work in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and local public health officials for rapid COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing when cases are identified.
  • We have reserved isolation and quarantine rooms on campus when needed for infected or exposed students who live in on-campus residences.

Classes

  • We will modify and create the spaces needed to accommodate classes, including utilizing a variety of other campus locations as additional classrooms.
  • Classrooms will be configured in accordance with physical distancing guidance.
  • Some classes or program experiences will be entirely virtual.
  • We will support teaching outdoors when practical.
  • Students with health issues that preclude returning to campus may be able to take classes remotely, though some classes will not be available remotely. Students should contact Lauren Kozak to discuss their particular situation.

Campus Activities, Student Life and Campus Dining

  • Adjustments to reduce the size of gatherings and promote physical distancing will affect most campus activities and operations.
  • Hand sanitizer dispenser stations will be installed at residence halls, campus building entrances and other high-traffic areas. Protective dividers/barriers will also be installed at high personal interaction areas and signage will be posted to help promote safe behaviors.
  • Dining halls will have reduced seating capacity and redesigned food service practices, shifting from self-service to fully served delivery of meals, as well as more carry out options.

Visitors and Major Campus Events

  • The university will remain closed to visitors.
  • Many traditional campus activities scheduled for this fall will transition to a virtual format.
  • Regrettably, sizable campus events such as Young Alumni Weekend and other large social gatherings will not be able to occur.
  • Parents and Family Weekend in September will not take place on campus, but efforts are underway for W&L to offer key programming virtually.
  • There will be opportunities for students, faculty and staff to have in-person gatherings and events this fall that meet university and public health guidelines.

Athletics

  • W&L's Department of Athletics is partnering with officials from the NCAA, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the Centennial Conference to address testing and contingency plans for fall sporting events. More information about fall athletics will be shared when final decisions are made.
  • Student athletes will hear from their coaches about steps that will allow them to train and compete safely.
  • We do not expect to hold large athletic events with normal capacity crowds. Other options could include required spacing or broadcast-only events.

Personal Accountability

We each have a part to play in keeping one another safe, and it's imperative our entire community understand and fulfill their role to help mitigate the spread of this virus. A group of students, faculty and staff is drafting a Statement of Community Expectations, which will outline principles that all members of our community will be asked to agree to as a condition of returning to and remaining on campus. Suggestions may be sent to covid19@wlu.edu and will be forwarded to the drafting group for consideration. We will share this statement in the weeks ahead.

Next Steps

COVID-19 Committee, chaired by Paul Youngman, associate provost and Redenbaugh Professor of German, was recently formed and has begun work to coordinate the implementation of our plan. This group will communicate regular updates to the campus community.

Another important resource for information moving forward is the university's COVID-19 Resources website. This site features the latest information on the university's plans and an updated list of frequently asked questions. Questions about the university's plans for the Fall Term should be directed to covid19@wlu.edu.

We want to close by expressing our gratitude to our faculty and staff members who are working incredibly hard to prepare, refine and implement the steps needed to deliver our standard of experiential liberal arts education, and to our students for their dedication to the W&L community in this challenging time.