Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
This spring we all looked to the summer and fall with high hopes and great expectations. Infection rates were falling, and the pandemic was receding in the United States. However, as we make plans for Fall arrival, we are witnessing a resurgence of the virus. This is disappointing to all of us, and we must now adjust our plans.
In Michigan, as is the case in so many other states, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is contributing to a sharp increase in COVID cases. This week (August 9, 2021), the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a seven-day case average of 1,048 per day, up from 110 per day in late June. The state also estimates that the Delta variant is now responsible for 96% of all Michigan cases.
Also this week, Kent County’s level of disease transmission increased from moderate to substantial, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission wear a face mask in indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status.
In light of this, our COVID mitigation strategies are being reviewed and updated, as outlined below.
As we prepare for in-person learning this fall, we are driven by several guiding principles, including a commitment to meet in person for the entire 2021-22 academic year, to design creative ways to live and have fun on campus, and to quickly adapt to our community health expectations as circumstances change. We are determined to make every effort to contribute to the safety and health of our entire community—students, employees, families, and our surrounding community of Grand Rapids—while providing high-quality learning experiences.
Effective at noon on Thursday, August 12, 2021, we will require all faculty, staff, students, and visitors—both vaccinated and unvaccinated—to wear masks in indoor campus spaces. Though we know not everyone will agree with this decision, we believe it is a prudent response to rising community spread. This recommendation is based on sound scientific and medical advice from the CDC, the Kent County Health Department, and our on-campus experts.
In the words of Kent County Health Department Medical Director Nirali Bora: “A return to masking is an important recommendation that we should all try to follow. Outdoor spaces are going to be the safest for everyone as much as that’s possible. But indoors, workplaces — people just really need to be a little more vigilant and more cautious. I know things felt great in the summer for a little while, but we are going in a different direction right now.”
We sincerely hope to be able to relax masking requirements when we see evidence that the Kent County risk level has decreased to a reasonable level, vaccination rates on campus have increased, and our campus case numbers remain low. In the meantime, the masking requirement will help us mitigate the increased risk of spread as we welcome Calvin community members back to campus from across the country and around the globe in the coming few weeks. We plan to monitor the campus environment through the first few weeks of the fall semester so that we can reevaluate our campus risk and update our approach accordingly.
There are some exceptions to the return to all-campus masking:
- anyone in a private office with the door closed (or at a workstation that is more than 6 feet from coworkers)
- students in their assigned residence hall or apartment. Please note that all students will still need to mask in common areas (basements, lounges, coffee kitchens, hallways, etc.) within residential spaces
- those who are eating or drinking in the dining halls or other indoor dining locations on campus. Please note that masks must still be worn in indoor dining locations when you are not seated and eating at a table, including while in food lines, while walking to a table, when not eating and conversing with other diners in indoor dining locations, etc.
- anyone under the age of two
- those unable to remove a face covering without assistance
- anyone required to wear assigned respiratory protection for the job they are performing
- those who have been given a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
As referenced above, we intend to assess our campus situation after the first week of classes and will communicate regularly about the Delta variant risk and community spread on or near Calvin’s campus. Any changes, extensions, or updates to the current masking requirement will be communicated as soon as they are decided.
We are encouraged that over 75% of our employees and close to 70% of our students are already vaccinated. The good news is that each of the current vaccines approved by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) has been scientifically shown to be incredibly effective at preventing severe infection, even against the Delta variant. So, we continue to encourage all members of the Calvin community to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
As the Delta variant continues to pose new challenges, all employees and students need to select one of two options:
Option 1: Provide proof of completion or evidence of planned completion of the COVID vaccine series by Monday, August 23.
Many students and employees are already vaccinated, and we likely have proof of vaccination on file if the vaccination happened in the state of Michigan. Anyone who was vaccinated outside of Michigan should report that vaccination status and provide proof of vaccination. Both students and employees can report through the COVID Reporting Form, which can be found at www.calvin.edu/go/covid-reporting.
All students, faculty, and staff who are currently listed as unvaccinated in our system will receive an email early next week that will contain further instructions on how to indicate either a detailed plan to complete the COVID vaccination series or submit an “Acknowledgement of COVID Non-Vaccination" form (described under Option 2 below).
There are vaccine appointments available in Health Services (https://www.calvin.edu/go/covid-vaccine-clinic) and most local pharmacies throughout the month of August. Individuals who choose Option 1 will be expected to follow the recommended schedules for the various vaccines, and the university will follow CDC guidelines as to fully vaccinated status (currently two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose COVID vaccine series or two weeks after a single dose vaccine).
In addition, there are some scenarios in which students are required to be vaccinated. These include students participating in a Calvin off-campus learning program as well as nursing students engaged in clinical learning rotations with organizations that require vaccinations of all employees. Additional situations may yet arise that require certain segments of the student body to be vaccinated. Any students who are impacted in such scenarios will receive a direct communication from the university
Option 2: Complete the “Acknowledgement of COVID Non-Vaccination" form no later than Monday, August 30.
Individuals who opt not to complete the COVID vaccine must sign this form to document their reason(s) for declining the COVID vaccine. The person signing the form must also indicate agreement to weekly COVID testing in lieu of being vaccinated and acknowledgement of potential costs, which may be borne by the individual choosing Option 2.
After the first week of classes, we will have weekly testing for anyone in our community who is not fully vaccinated. Details of this fall testing program are being finalized and will be communicated to all employees and students listed in our system as unvaccinated on August 23.
Students should note that, with the exception of those whose underlying medical conditions are prohibitive for vaccination, testing will be at the personal expense of the person who chooses Option 2, as would other potential costs related to COVID mitigation, including quarantine and food delivery. In the event of rising caseloads and positivity rates on campus, people who chose Option 2 may be asked to leave campus or be required to wear masks in indoor campus spaces even if the current mask mandate for all students and employees is lifted.
Return-to-Learn Testing Reminder
Please note that fall surveillance testing for people who choose Option 2 is different than the return-to-learn testing that will happen for all students who are not yet fully vaccinated (including those who are in the process of being vaccinated) as they come back to campus for the start of the new academic year in August. Students have received prior communications from the university with details on that program, but to recap:
- International travelers will be tested before their travel, so they can use that test result for our purposes upon arrival to Calvin.
- Domestic travelers who are not fully vaccinated can be tested on their own prior to coming or utilize our on-campus testing options (dates and times will be posted at www.calvin.edu/go/covid-screening). The cost for on-campus testing will be $20 per test, which will be posted to the student’s Miscellaneous Account.
- On-campus testing will be open and optional for vaccinated students too, but not required. The cost for all students will be $20 per test, which will be posted to the student’s Miscellaneous Account.
This email contains a great deal of information and may spark additional questions. Please direct your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. These refinements to existing processes have been made after long and arduous discussions about the pros and cons of various approaches, after much prayer, and with a clear eye on the best scientific and medical advice at our disposal.
In all we do, we aim to create a safe and healthy campus environment this coming year for faculty, staff, students, and visitors. Thank you for partnering in this endeavor. We remain hopeful and expectant as we launch a new year together.
Michael K. Le Roy
On behalf of Cabinet and the COVID Response Team