Change to COVID-19 Environment Level and Easing of Restrictions
To: W&L Students, Faculty, Staff and Parents
From: The COVID-19 Committee
Date: Monday, October 12
As we communicated in last week's COVID-19 updates to students, faculty and staff, our campus saw two significant spikes in COVID-19 cases in mid-September. Thanks to effective contact tracing and isolation and quarantine (I/Q) procedures, the clusters were identified and contained in a relatively short period of time, and most of those students have now completed their isolation or quarantine periods and are returning to normal activities
Over the past two weeks, W&L has seen small numbers of new cases identified, largely related to one another and to those already in quarantine. We currently have 37 students in isolation or quarantine - five in our on-campus I/Q space and 32 elsewhere. This is down from a high of 165 students less than a month ago. We have been very fortunate to have only one employee test positive since our ongoing testing program began on Aug. 24, and no cases that appear to have originated in classrooms or other academic settings.
This positive trend has relieved some of the stress on our Student Health Center, contact tracing and I/Q capacity, and other support areas that are affected by large numbers of students in quarantine. Thanks to the commitment our students, faculty and staff have shown to one another, and to continued adherence of most of our community to the often difficult and frustrating restrictions that are in place to help prevent the spread on our campus, we are very pleased to announce that this afternoon we recommended, and President Dudley approved, a move of W&L's COVID-19 Environment Level from yellow-high back to yellow-middle. This change allows us to ease several restrictions that were put in place when the level was last changed on Sept. 14.
First, we will return to in-person dining in both the Marketplace and Evans Hall beginning with breakfast tomorrow, Oct. 13. While we have not identified any cases of COVID-19 being spread among students in our dining facilities, we do understand there was previously some question among students about the proximity of seating for in-person dining. To that end, Dining Services has taken additional measures to further spread seating in those facilities to better allow for distancing during in-person meals. In addition, we are working to install a number of tents around campus to provide additional spaces for students to eat outdoors under cover. As the weather gets cooler, we are looking into options for heating the outdoor spaces as well. Sharing meals is one of many ways our students are able to connect on our campus, and our intent is to provide safe options for in-person dining in small groups.
Second, restrictions on social gathering size will return to the previous limits of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with face coverings and physical distancing requirements continuing to be in place and enforced.
Third, the committee supports a thoughtful proposal from W&L's IFC and Panhellenic organizations that will allow upper division men and women to socialize with first-year students in small groups, in places other than Greek houses and residences, while continuing to follow distancing, face covering, and group size requirements. IFC and Panhellenic leadership will communicate the specific details of this change in the coming days.
While we are happy to be at a point where we are able to move the indicator and ease some restrictions, we do ask that all members of the W&L community please continue to be vigilant in following all guidance and to please continue doing a great job completing the daily attestation.
Distancing, consistent use of face coverings, and limiting of close contacts continue to be our best defense against the spread of COVID-19, even for those who have recovered from the virus. Distancing of at least six feet continues to be required indoors and out, and face coverings are still required at all gatherings, at all times, unless you are outdoors, stationary, and more than six feet apart. The visitor policy remains in effect, with no one allowed in campus buildings other than current W&L students, faculty, staff and approved vendors, and no visitors other than current W&L students allowed in undergraduate students' residences. And gatherings should continue to be limited in size, using the new guidelines established today.
We have heard from many of you over the past few months, and we hope that by moving the Environment Level and easing some restrictions, our students will be able to continue building the lasting friendships and sense of community that are so much a part of the W&L experience, and that all of us will feel a little less isolated going into the second half of Fall Term. We know the pandemic has made this a difficult time for all, and we are mindful of both the physical and mental health of our entire campus community. Please continue to reach out to one another, to connect in safe and responsible ways, and to be in touch with us to share ideas for ways we can work through this challenging time together.
We appreciate all that you have done and continue to do to make this semester a success and we look forward to the rest of Fall Term!