The message below was sent on Thursday, August 19.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
As the start of the fall semester approaches and more students begin to return to campus, we write to highlight several key features of our approach to COVID safety. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we are following the guidance of infectious disease physicians, the CDC and Pennsylvania authorities, and the Montgomery County Office of Public Health; we are also consulting with our colleagues at Haverford and Swarthmore. Since new information is available daily and conditions are shifting due to the new variants, we have been regularly reviewing our plans and adjusting as needed.
Like all of you, we had hoped that our return to campus would look more like it did in fall of 2019. Many of us may be tired, anxious, disappointed, or even angry that the United States has not made more progress in vanquishing the disease, despite all our efforts. We recognize that some in our community continue to grieve for loved ones lost to COVID, while other friends and family continue to battle the virus and its complications. Still others in our community must manage complicated family situations and households where not everyone can be vaccinated. We also understand that many are excited and eager to gather safely. We are grateful to this community for recognizing all of these circumstances and supporting one another.
Our students benefit tremendously from being on the campus and learning in a hands-on environment with lots of opportunities (formal and informal) for interaction with peers, faculty, and staff. We are fortunate to be able to return to an almost fully in-person experience because of the mitigation measures and community participation we have in place. Experts and professional organizations have been clear that our combination of an extremely high community vaccination level (>98% when all have completed their vaccination series) and appropriate masking requirements in indoor spaces provides excellent defense against viral transmission. These experts have stressed that this combination of protections is the most important part of an effective mitigation strategy. Although both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can transmit the virus, vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract the disease, and they may be less likely to convey the disease to others. In addition, vaccines are very effective at limiting the severity of the disease. Most importantly, our experts have assured us that masking provides excellent additional protection against the residual risks.
While we are grateful for our community’s extremely high vaccination level, we recognize that some individuals cannot themselves be vaccinated while others have people in their households who cannot be vaccinated. We understand that these members of our community may have additional concerns. Upgrading to such masks as KN95s, N95s, or the newly available KF94s provides additional protection, and the College is able to provide these upgraded masks for those who need them. That said, we have heard over and over that the best mask is the one that you wear. The simple blue surgical masks are proven to provide an effective level of protection and comfort for extended periods.
We are also aware of the new recommendation for booster shots for those vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Consistent with our vaccine mandate, we will likely require these booster shots for those who can be vaccinated. We will provide more information as details unfold and will explore possible ways to facilitate this step on campus. The College will also offer free flu vaccines for all students, faculty, and staff this year.
The other important mitigation strategy is for people to monitor their symptoms and stay home when they are feeling unwell. In support of this important request, the College has extended our COVID sick policy until at least October 1st and is providing paid sick hours to student employees. We encourage faculty members to support students who choose to miss class if they are feeling ill.
Over the past 18 months, we have improved our ventilation systems and upgraded filtration. We are installing HEPA filters in shared spaces where there is less fresh air exchange. The guidance that we have received from the experts has not included reduction in our current occupancy rates. In addition, a beneficial change in routine last year was that most of us spent more time outside. Meetings can also be moved outside or to spaces that are larger than usual. We will continue to provide additional outdoor furniture and some tented spaces to encourage more activities to move outdoors.
Last year students, faculty, and staff were careful in their personal lives and were mindful of others as they made choices about travel and daily activities. We know that students, faculty, and staff will step up again. It is important not to make negative assumptions about any group or individual and their behaviors around COVID. It is also important not to “other” or blame people who cannot get vaccinated. With the Delta variant, anyone can be a vector of transmission. The only way for us to be successful is to move forward as a single cohesive and supportive community. We demonstrated last year that Bryn Mawr is such a community, where every individual does their part to protect the health of all.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to any one of us. Provost Tim Harte will be following up with a specific communication for faculty around teaching and technology needs. Groups of us will also offer a few “open office hours” next week for folks who have additional questions (more information forthcoming).
We know that students are very excited to return to campus, and we are looking forward to welcoming members of the Class of 2025 to campus for the first time along with many members of the Class of 2024 who have never resided on campus. We are grateful to each and every one of you for your help in ensuring that our collective experience will be the best that it can be. We may be living with COVID and its variants for the foreseeable future, but we have a plan in place that allows us to resume our learning and work together. We will be here for each other as we navigate this complicated year. Thank you for all that you are doing to help make this possible.
Operations Planning Group and Senior Staff