Additional COVID Preventative Measures for Spring Semester
Dear Goucher Community,
Many of us have grown increasingly concerned as we have seen the number of new coronavirus infections caused by the Omicron variant rise dramatically nationwide in recent weeks. Several people have asked what changes we might anticipate for this spring given the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance concerning isolation times, face masks, and other preventative measures issued just this past week.
Let me address a few of these questions now.
First, the COVID Task Force meets frequently to evaluate the latest guidance we receive from the CDC, the American College Health Association (ACHA), and local state and county health departments. Consequently, we will continue to update our COVID protocols in response to this ever-evolving pandemic with a goal of ensuring a safe return to in-person, on-campus instruction this spring. You can expect additional updates in the coming weeks.
Second, let me remind everyone that while the incidence of COVID infections is the highest we have yet seen since the start of this pandemic, we are in a much better situation than we were two years ago: we have two highly effective vaccines and boosters now widely available throughout the United States and an increasing share of U.S. and Maryland residents vaccinated every week. We can also take pride in the fact that Goucher College students, faculty, and staff have achieved 100% compliance with the College’s mandated vaccination requirements.
In response to the increase in COVID infections in recent weeks, we have already mandated the influenza vaccine as well as the COVID vaccines and booster shots for all students. We have also required all students to obtain a PCR test within 72 hours prior to returning to campus, or plan on being tested and remain in quarantine until receiving a negative test result. We also expect to continue to mandate face masks in all indoor public spaces, periodically test the campus wastewater, and administer PCR tests as necessary to those students who may have been exposed to, or are at high risk of, infection so we can reduce the risk of transmission and ensure we will have a successful spring semester.
However, we can do more. As of this week, the COVID Task Force has recommended, and I have approved, four additional measures.
First, we strongly encourage all faculty, staff, and students to use N-95, KN95, or KF94 face masks instead of the cloth masks that we have mandated until now. Recent research definitively shows the much higher effectiveness of these masks, used either alone or as an additional layer underneath a cloth mask, in preventing the spread of the Omicron variant. Furthermore, while there is much greater availability of these masks today in contrast to the extreme shortages we experienced two years ago, the College is also investigating whether we can procure additional supplies to have on hand for the upcoming semester. We’ll provide further guidance on this and any updated requirements on masking in next week’s communication.
Second, to further reduce the risk of transmission to the College community, we have canceled all live public events in the Athenaeum, Merrick Hall, Kraushaar Auditorium, and elsewhere on campus until February 20th.
Third, to better ensure a smooth transition to a fully in-person, on-campus, residential experience this spring, we will be asking all our faculty to begin their classes online for the first two weeks of the semester, and then transition to in-person classes the third week of the semester. This will allow for the safe return of students to campus and completion of the first round of mandated PCR tests, and thus minimize the potential spread of the virus on campus.
Finally, we are asking all our employees not in student-facing roles who can continue to work from home to do so through the first two weeks of classes. Each of the College’s vice presidents will provide employees in their division with additional guidance on our return to campus plans.
Let me state once again: we remain committed to taking proactive and adaptive measures to provide an on-campus, in-person learning experience for all our undergraduate students this spring. This includes students living in the residence halls, engaging in on-campus activities and events, and participating in Landmark Conference athletic competition. The safety of our entire community – faculty, staff, and students – is of utmost importance.
Expect an additional email from me next week with further info on face masks, updates to our COVID protocols pertaining to athletics, and the latest revisions to the COVID alert levels and associated restrictions to reflect the most recent public health guidance.
Until then, be well, and stay safe.