I write today to share with you one of the many unique features of our return to campus this fall. As we work toward assembling the formal plan mandated by the Commonwealth to be submitted by July 6, one aspect of our planning that we are required to articulate is how and when we would implement a “pause”.
What is a pause? This would be a short-term closing down of physical classes with a return to online delivery during the pause. It would also entail closing down the offices on campus as quickly as possible and a return to working remotely for those whose jobs allow it. The purpose of a pause is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by giving us time to identify individuals with the disease, implement contact-tracing, and get people into quarantine.
The COVID-19 Task Force has identified three things that would cause us to go into pause mode. The first is a directive from the Governor. The second is a surge in the incidences of COVID-19 around us that would make it unsafe to continue teaching physical classes.
The COVID-19 Task Force has agreed that the third trigger for a pause will be a diagnosis of COVID-19 in our community, whether it be faculty, staff, or students. Thus, should anyone in the community report a positive test, campus safety will communicate the result, and we will automatically have a two-week pause. Faculty members should be ready to switch to online instruction in this case, and staff members should be prepared to begin working remotely.
Such a quick pivot, with a two-week duration, seems to the Task Force to be the only responsible way forward as we work to keep our community safe and healthy. The only testing available to us will be for people who are already symptomatic, so there is a high risk that anyone with the disease will have spread the virus to many other people by the time we know they have COVID-19. Under the best of circumstances, it would then take several days to do the contact tracing for that individual and check with the contacts to see who among that group needs testing.
During this time, residential students would remain on campus, but classes would be online. And, again, most staff would be working remotely. At the end of the two weeks, we would hope that it was safe to return to physical classes and working in our offices. However, it is possible that because of the spread of COVID-19 in the community that such a return will not be possible at the end of the two week period.
The members of the Task Force feel it is important for everyone to understand now what a pause is and the quick pivot it will require. We want to make sure that no one is surprised and that necessary preparations are taken before such an action is required. Courses should be designed so that they can quickly be moved online, and those staff members who are able should be prepared to shift to work away from campus at quick notice.
This is just one of the many issues we are discussing and planning for as we prepare for the start of classes in the fall. I will continue sending additional updates and information.