It was one year ago this week that we sent an all-campus email alerting students, staff and faculty that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we would be moving to online instruction starting the following week.
In the year since that email was sent, we have sent approximately 100 more COVID-related emails on a plethora of pandemic-related topics. What a year it has been! Now, in March 2021, we reflect with deep gratitude on the many ways in which the Calvin community has come together during COVID, and we look ahead with hope to what is on the horizon, including a rapidly increasing rate of vaccinations in Grand Rapids and Kent County.
On campus, we continue to loosen restrictions put into place during our two-week period of enhanced physical distancing in February, including an expansion in the residence halls last week, which now permits in-room visits among floormates. And on-campus residents should watch for another communication soon from student life about more opportunities for visiting to come.
Isolation and Quarantine Numbers Continue to Look Good
This continued phased lifting comes as a result of a dramatic change in our isolation and quarantine cases which have gone from 308 students in isolation (115) and quarantine (193) on February 17 to just 12 in isolation (3) and quarantine (9) as of March 9.
But, as the CDC says, now is not the time to let our guard down. As a campus, we are renewing our commitment to daily symptom-monitoring, mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoidance of social gatherings, so that we can continue to go in the right directions as a campus.
We have been encouraged by the strong participation in our weekly asymptomatic screening clinics, and by the timeliness with which students experiencing COVID-like symptoms are reporting those through #CampusClear and the Health Services patient portal.
In fact, one of the reasons for the recent decline in the number of students in quarantine is that students are doing a much better job reporting symptoms as soon as they occur and thus reducing their number of close contacts, people who then need to go into quarantine.
Positive Signs for This Spring and Fall
Finally, one year after our first all-campus email, we are so grateful to the scientific communities on our campus and in our county, state, and nation who continue to provide valuable guidance, insights, and understanding during this pandemic, including this recent piece from Calvin biology professor Anding Shen titled “A Christian Perspective on COVID Vaccines.”
There are many people in the scientific community who have worked on the vaccines that are now providing a road forward through COVID-19. Indeed, yesterday in Michigan, people over the age of 50 with an underlying health condition or disability became eligible for the COVID vaccine. And on March 22, anyone over the age of 50 will become eligible which will make more than one-third of our state’s 10 million residents eligible for vaccination. State epidemiologists say that this expansion will have an outsized impact on hospitalizations and deaths in Michigan and comes months ahead of previous estimates for eligibility.
All of this means that as we now move past the one-year mark of our campus COVID response, there are many causes for optimism, many things that bode well for a good spring semester together, and several early indicators that point toward an even more normal campus life this coming fall.
We will say more about the fall in the coming weeks and months, but for now please know that while we don't know exactly what this fall will look like – and we plan to still be flexible and adaptive – we are planning that our fall academic calendar will return to a more traditional format, including our normal start and end dates and our typical breaks.
In addition, we are confident that we will be able to increase classroom and dining hall density, to return to a more regular residential housing and student activities experience, to have more fans at athletic events and more attendees at lectures, concerts, and other campus events, and to gather together for normal chapel worship experiences. The university will operate consistent with any public health guidelines that may be in effect at that time, but all of these are elements that will contribute to new opportunities to enjoy the robust and holistic Calvin University education we all hold dear.
New CDC Guidelines for Vaccinations Encouraging
Indeed, yesterday, the CDC released new guidance for those who are vaccinated, and while we are still working with the Kent County Health Department to determine what that means for our community, these guidelines give us continued hope as we look to the future.
Based on these current CDC guidelines, we expect masks to remain an important part of some of our communal living together, but we also know that those who have been vaccinated will likely have additional privileges in the months ahead.
We are committed to making the vaccine easily accessible to all students, staff, and faculty just as soon as we have an allotment to dispense. And in all that we do, we will continue to take every step needed to protect those in our campus community who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
For now, let’s continue to pray for more good news in the weeks to come, and let’s continue to stay healthy, stay safe, and stay #CalvinStrong.
The COVID-Response Team
Phil de Haan
Todd Hubers (co-chair)
Sarah Visser (co-chair)