Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,
On Wednesday, August 11, Calvin students, faculty and staff received an update about some COVID-19 mitigation steps our community will take as we begin our new academic year together.
Specifically, two measures were noted: 1) a temporary return to a face mask requirement in public spaces as we welcome students from around the world to our community and face the reality of rising case numbers in our region; and 2) a plan to either receive a COVID-19 vaccination or participate in on-going surveillance testing (for those who decline vaccination).
We’ve already received a number of responses to these measures, including expressions of support and appreciation, questions about implementation, and disagreement.
While this was expected, it also shows the challenge of finding a path forward on which everyone would agree and also the challenge of communicating upcoming actions in a timely fashion, such that people don’t feel that they have not been well informed, while still working out some of the fine details.
Many of the questions we are receiving will be answered in a FAQ that will be published early next week on our COVID Response website.
But there are several general concerns that are worth addressing today, to reassure our community of our direction and progress in the face of difficult decisions that are intended to serve the well-being of the whole and promote an excellent educational experience.
First, besides the mask requirement for public spaces, we are not implementing any further restrictions. For example, we have no plans to implement occupancy limits, activity restrictions, or visitor bans. We are not requiring distancing for classes or events. We’ll be able to visit each other in residence halls, play sports, and have fully open dining halls. Masks will not be required outdoors.
But as our students return to campus from across the country and indeed the globe, including from locales where COVID rates are high, and until we accurately know the levels of vaccination among our students and the number of cases that may arise in the early days of the semester, we believe that indoor masking is a prudent and safe measure to take, an important layer of mitigation and protection as we all come together again.
We are hopeful that this will be a short and temporary measure, with re-evaluation beginning after the first weeks of class, and modifications made to the policy as the dynamics of disease transmission in our community are better understood. We are working to preserve the greatest chances of a normal semester, and eventually we assume we’ll be mask free again, just as we were for most of the summer months.
Please know too that plans for on-going surveillance testing of non-vaccinated community members have not been finalized yet.
Although we plan on weekly testing (starting the second week of class), the details and costs have not been fully established. The cost to students will be kept as reasonable as possible and will be used to help with the unbudgeted reality of purchasing tests and providing the staffing needed to do the process safely, efficiently, and accurately. We also are considering how to incorporate verified test results from outside providers that meet our testing standards as part of this process.
The recommendation for this surveillance testing of unvaccinated individuals comes from our local health department, and we will continue to consult with them about the length of time this testing will be needed.
We are grateful for an outpouring of prayer and solidarity we have received, even as we’ve received questions and concerns about the start of this academic year. In the midst of a rapidly changing environment, we are eager to begin this new academic year and grateful to have students joining and re-joining us on campus soon!
COVID Response Team
Phil de Haan
Sarah Visser, chair