July 4, 2020

Message #2 from the Task Force

A message from the President’s Task Force.

Colleagues,

This is the second in a series of weekly communications with the campus community from the COVID-19 Task Force. Over the course of the last week there has been significant movement on a number of fronts in planning a return to campus this fall.

First, President Paino established guiding principles to inform planning efforts and the important decisions that will need to be made by the Task Force.  These tenets shall also inform the individual planning of campus units working towards a COVID-19 response:

  1. Protect the health, safety, and well-being of students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.
  2. Preserve the ability to fulfill our mission – teaching and learning that serves the public good.
  3. Maintain those University operations that support student success and our ability to fulfill our mission.
  4. Preserve the University’s financial capacity as well as its long-term financial health to fulfill our mission now and into the future.
  5. Honor our community values (ASPIRE – Accountability, Scholarship, Personal and Individual Integrity, Inclusive Excellence, Respect and Civility, Engagement).

Second, the Task Force has begun utilizing the information and research developed in the topical areas of the seven subgroups, which we described in last week’s communication (Public Health, Academics, Student Life, Residential Life, Dining, Work Life, and Technology) in order to build several plans. It has become readily apparent that many concerns and issues facing campus are intertwined among the groups. Addressing these broad scale issues requires greater conversation and cross pollination among the teams. In response, President Paino charged the Task Force subgroup chairs with meeting and coordinating the subgroup efforts.

The subgroups and the chairs are framing their work around four plans:  1) reopening campus, 2) monitoring and responding to health conditions of the campus community, 3) containment to prevent the spread of disease if/when detected, and 4) return to remote operations if that becomes necessary.  Chairs of the subgroups are drafting recommendations that fit within each of these plans. Included in these recommendations are projecting cost estimates (e.g. testing, PPE, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, technology, etc.), which must be factored into the many costs associated with a return to campus.

Already the Task Force has identified dozens of logistical issues that must be considered and operationalized such as….

  • Should the academic calendar be altered, accelerated, or abbreviated?
  • What is the best method to calculate occupancy limits for classrooms under social distancing guideline?
  • How can classroom assignments be configured so that every classroom may be cleaned according to CDC recommendations?
  • What is an appropriate density of occupation for the residence halls?
  • What policies will be in place regarding students, faculty, staff and visitors regarding masks/facial coverings?

Even as we are planning, the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group is developing guidelines for safely reopening that allow for coordination and compatibility among the state’s educational bodies. Ultimately, these recommendations, which are expected to be released on June 5, will complement the work of our internal groups.

Finally, one decision that has been made is that we will restrict all room and facility reservations for the fall semester. This is important to do both because 1) it is not clear what events and programs the University will be able to hold in the fall, and 2) to the maximum degree possible, event and meeting facilities need to be available to be repurposed into instructional and classroom spaces to allow for adequate social distancing.

Next week, managers will receive additional guidance from the Work Life subgroup regarding ways to develop further working protocols and safety guidelines. These recommendations will be based upon the direction of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management.

In many of our initial communications, we may have more questions than answers; yet we will strive to keep you informed in a timely and transparent way. We also invite you to share your thoughts, concerns, and questions with the members of the subgroup, names of whom were shared in the first Task Force email on May 14.

 

Jeff McClurken and Tim O’Donnell

Members of the President’s Task Force