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2021 Fall Return Health and Safety Plan

Dear Campus Community,

 

It’s the summer of short supply. Car makers are waiting for computer chips. Manufacturing has stalled for want of essential chemicals and other critical parts. Restaurants have reduced hours because of a shortage of staff. Prices are higher; orders are backlogged. Isn’t it a comfort to know that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness (Lam. 3:22).” There is an abundance of what we need the most.

 

Seeing things correctly is one of life’s toughest challenges. In fact, a central theme for the coming year will be character formation and the quest for wisdom. The fall chapel schedule is being built around this virtue as we consider the teachings of Jesus, Old Testament wisdom literature, and insights from outstanding guest speakers entitled “Word to the Wise.” In addition, a faculty committee is currently studying how wisdom development is advanced in our core curriculum. Indeed, the subject of wisdom demands our attention. We live at a time of seemingly unlimited information, but genuine wisdom is too often a rare commodity.

 

Consequently, effective leadership is especially challenging, perhaps more so than at any other time in my professional life. If cultural consensus is a useful guide, sharp division on key issues severely limits this resource. Leaders must work hard to discern the most prudent courses of action and hope for a measure of grace from those affected by the decisions.

 

Last summer we faced what seemed like a mountain of difficulty. The turmoil stemming from COVID-19 and racial unrest demanded special insight and sound judgment. As the weeks passed by, we experienced a heightened sense of dependence on God’s grace. A remarkably dedicated team charted a course for GCC that served us well in a memorable year.

 

One of the major challenges throughout this long ordeal is the need to make policies while important new facts continue to unfold. For example, if the College had formulated a plan for the coming fall semester in early June, significant information regarding the Delta variant would have been less of a factor in our thinking than it is today. And Delta will undoubtedly have a different influence two or three months from now. Therefore, the best we can do is review the information available to us now and establish wise policies for the future. Your prayers for the success of this work are greatly appreciated. God has wonderfully blessed Grove City College over this past year and a half.

 

A necessary place to start in thinking about our policies for this coming academic year is with applicable government directives and the facts. Last year we were subject to an extensive list of government mandates, as well as tremendous uncertainty about how COVID-19 might impact our campus community. This year many of the mandates have either been lifted or changed to expectations and recommendations, and we know a lot more about the nature of the COVID-19 threat. And, of course, the availability of a vaccine is a tremendous help and mercifully addresses the primary concern of protecting those especially vulnerable to major illness.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Education, and the PA Departments of Health and Education have issued a mix of recommendations and guidance, but there is clearly an increased deference to the judgments of local authorities, organizations, and institutions, based in part on the level of COVID-19 outbreak. It is generally expected, however, that institutions of higher education will continue testing, contact tracing, isolating positive COVID-19 students, and quarantining those directly exposed. In other words, we should have measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

 

With these policies as a starting point, our principal goal for this fall semester is to restore normalcy to campus life by taking reasonable steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 within our community. The prospect of hundreds of students being sick at the same time, again a real risk with what we know today about the contagiousness of the Delta variant, would be a major disruption to academic, extracurricular, and residential life operations. The comforting news is that with some basic proactive measures, we can prevent this from happening, Lord willing.

 

Here are the key elements of our plan for the fall semester:

 

  •     Students must be healthy when they return to campus in August. Establishing a healthy baseline was an effective measure last January as COVID numbers were on the rise. Now the CDC advises that our face mask policies should be aligned with case counts. If we can keep our COVID-19 cases low, we will have more flexibility in relation to face masks and other protocols.

 

Therefore, unvaccinated students scheduled to take eight or more credit hours of classes during the upcoming semester will be required to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result (PCR or antigen) within seven days of their planned return to campus or provide documentation of a positive test result and full recovery within 90 days of arrival. These tests are easy and free – just sign up at your local pharmacy. Brenda and I were tested four times for our recent trip to Ireland – a small inconvenience for the joy of visiting our daughter and son-in-law, or in this case, serving our wonderful community.

 

If you test positive for COVID-19 or have direct contact with someone who does, please contact Student Life and wait to return to campus. You can take your first class or two online.

 

  • We will continue our COVID-19 testing process for those who are experiencing symptoms or have been directly exposed (6/15 rule) to those who have the virus. While we will continue to use our houses and other campus locations to isolate those with symptoms or who test positive, we will discontinue using the hotels for quarantines. Exposed students will be able to stay in their rooms.

 

  • Vaccinated students will not be subject to contact tracing and quarantines unless in the rare circumstance they become ill and test positive for COVID. The College encourages families to consider getting vaccinated. Second doses, and first, can be obtained at Rite Aid, Rx Xpress, and other locations here in Grove City.

 

  • As long as the spread of COVID-19 is not high in our area, which it is not at this time, vaccinated students and employees are not being advised by the CDC or other agencies that they should wear masks. They recommend that unvaccinated persons wear masks indoors and when unable to maintain physical distancing from others. The College supports this recommendation.

 

  • Unvaccinated student-athletes and coaches may be subject to additional testing and masking requirements established by the NCAA or the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. The Athletics Department will provide further information.

 

  • Generally speaking, campus activities, services, and the use of facilities will return to pre-pandemic life. However, in the providence of God, we may need to establish additional restrictions if health risks take an unexpected turn.

 

  • The Office of Student Life and Learning will be providing more detailed information tomorrow.

 

It’s important to understand that because we live and work together in such close proximity, our conscientiousness about the spread of this disease must be greater than when we are away from campus. Those who have worked at camps this summer understand this distinction. If we can share this frame of mind, our fast-approaching academic year will be much closer to the normalcy we all long to experience. Care for one another must not be in short supply.

 

In His abundant peace,
P. McNulty 

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