I’m speaking to you from the President’s Residence, my home. This seemed the right thing to do since we will very shortly be welcoming all of you back to campus, and for our students, welcoming you into the residence halls that you will call home for the next academic year. We are excited to have you here. Already, there are several hundred athletes, students, and residential advisors, and international students on campus.
So, before classes begin, I wanted to urge all of you to come to campus with the right frame of mind. Of course I want you to focus on your academic and musical experience. But just as importantly, we all must focus on our personal health, and in turn the health of the entire campus.
One significant change from last year is that our campus is largely vaccinated. Thanks to your diligence, more than 91 percent of our students, and if you include faculty and staff, that figure is nearly 90 percent for the entire campus. I expect those figures to rise as more people get vaccinated and upload their vaccination cards to Student Health and Human Resources.
But I don’t want this data point to give you a false sense of things. With a largely vaccinated campus I don’t think we need to be as concerned about a full-scale shut down of campus as we experienced 18 months ago. But it doesn’t mean that the spread of COVID-19 on campus will be zero. Like last year, we will have COVID-19 cases on campus. In fact, because we don’t have the mitigation of distance and single rooms, health experts tell us that we should expect to see a larger number of COVID cases on campus, perhaps even more in the first few weeks than we saw all last year. That’s because the breakthrough rate in our region is 1-2%.
So I don’t want you to be surprised if it happens. But we are Obies, and our goal is to defy those odds, not just accept them. So here is what it’s gonna take. In your first few weeks on campus, we, as a campus, are going to go above and beyond the CDC guidelines to help minimize the risk to the unvaccinated and reduce the spread of COVID-19 by asking you to wear your masks indoors and outdoors. We are targeting the first few couple of weeks because this is the period….as we come from all corners of the earth back together…where we are most at risk of bringing COVID infections onto campus.
You may remove your mask when you are in your residence with your roommate. But here is the thing, Obies. At this moment we are not asking you to say to your one friend that you don’t live with, I can’t see you for the first few weeks in my room. And I don’t want to have to change that policy. But when that one friend shows up, you have got to wear your mask.
Obies, let’s be smart about this! Do not hold or attend indoor parties. Gather outside and wear your mask when doing so for the first few weeks of the semester. Let’s get a baseline and see where we are as a campus. I said last year, that if it is going to be this year, it is going to be up to you as students. That truism has not changed.
That’s what we have been seeing happen on other campuses where they pretty quickly get to over 100 cases—because there is lack of diligence in mask-wearing indoors. And then those campuses have to go about changing policies around things like gatherings, etc. As I said, I don’t want to have to do that, but your adherence and just being smart about things will be what impacts those types of changes. Remember we were able to keep our transmission rate below .25% last year with no vaccinations, just mask wearing, and social distancing. Masks make a difference, being outside makes a difference, maintaining distance when you can, makes a difference.
During these first few weeks we will do grab-and-go dining like last year, and I am hopeful that we will be able to return to distanced dining indoors after the first few weeks. We also are requiring all students, faculty, and staff to get tested at Hales Gym during the move-in period. After move-in, we will continue to test all unvaccinated members of our community once a week, with unvaccinated students being tested at Student Health and faculty, staff, and vendors being tested at Hales. And if you haven’t uploaded your vaccination card to Student Health or Human Resources, do so.
As you know, these matters and the policies can change quickly as we assess what is happening, nationally, locally, and on our campus specifically. So read your emails, particularly the ObieSafe protocols for adjustments and updates.
I know we can do this, and the approach I just outlined will help. So please, remember to wear your mask. If you show symptoms and you are a student, get tested at Student Health. If you are faculty or staff, get tested and don’t come to work until you get your result. Remember to wash your hands.
We are a highly vaccinated campus. But our success still depends upon the commitment of our students, faculty, and staff. But there is no other group I’d rather depend on than you.
Be well, and I will see you on campus soon.
Carmen Twillie Ambar