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W&M announces safety protocols for fall

  • Signs outlining safety protocols hang on a door on campus
    Rules for a different kind of semester  William & Mary recently announced a series of campus safety protocols for the fall semester. The new mandates relate to COVID-19 testing and face coverings. The safeguards will remain in place through at least December 2020.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Creative solutions for a different kind of semester

William & Mary recently announced a series of campus safety protocols for the fall semester. The new mandates relate to COVID-19 testing and face coverings. The safeguards will remain in place through at least December 2020.

W&M President Katherine A. Rowe discussed the protocols during a virtual town hall meeting Monday night, in which faculty, staff and student assembly representatives asked campus leaders a wide range of questions about COVID-19 and the fall semester. Rowe emphasized that the fall at W&M will be different and said that actions such as physical distancing and face coverings have proven to be effective in mitigating the spread of the virus.

“William & Mary is one of the rare institutions that could make those interventions work,” Rowe said. “Our students are different. They are creative, insightful and ultimately profoundly prosocial — that is, they are committed to community and protecting those who are vulnerable. This is a community that can be successful in implementing such systematic safeguards and behavioral norms, so long as the surrounding context makes that possible.”

{{youtube:medium:left|r1l5rUA6-7A, W&M Town Hall}}

COVID-19 testing

William & Mary announced Monday it is partnering with the VCU Health System to expand its capacity for physical and mental health services, including COVID-19 testing for students and employees. The university followed that news up Wednesday with a campus-wide message outlining testing protocols for the fall semester.

“We are establishing a testing program that goes above and beyond state health and CDC guidelines and is designed to be responsive to the most at-risk populations within our community,” said Sam Jones, chair of William & Mary’s COVID-19 Response Team. Jones added that testing frequency and population percentage will evolve based on campus trends and available testing methods.

“Recognizing that the health landscape continues to evolve, a robust testing effort allows us to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus among students and employees, and to track campus trends relative to those locally, within Virginia and nationally,” he said.

All students will be required to be tested before the start of fall semester. Most students will receive a self-administered, mail-in test kit prior to arriving, Jones said. Those kits should arrive in time for students to self-administer the test, mail it back with the required consent form and get their test results before they arrive on campus. As part of the process, students will be able to specify the address to which the testing kits should be mailed.

Prevalence testing, which will use an initial sampling of 5% of the student body, will occur at least every two weeks, but is subject to change with evolving public health trends and testing methods, Jones said. William & Mary will cover the cost of voluntary testing at the end of the semester for both students and employees who wish to be tested prior to returning home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

All employees will have access to voluntary at-will testing through the VCUHS for a $15 out-of-pocket copayment, with the university covering the balance. Prevalence testing will also occur every two weeks for employees, with an initial sample of 2% of the employee/contractor population.

Employees or contract workers in positions where physical distancing cannot be maintained or where other modifications may not be feasible will be tested before working with students. They will be contacted over the next two weeks with instructions for testing.

Face covering requirements

William & Mary recently announced it will require the use of face coverings on campus from now through the end of the calendar year. Compliance with the requirement is mandatory and applies to all faculty, staff, students, contract workers, vendors and others who are on the university’s various campuses or enter university owned or leased buildings.

“It is not optional — that needs to be declared from the start,” said Rowe in the town hall, adding that the nation is struggling with establishing shared norms.

“We need to be pursuing a dialogue around the shared norms, the actions that are required for reopening, from a place of respect and one that thinks about working and learning together as a goal we can achieve during the pandemic, otherwise the only option we will have is to continue to be apart, and we have seen just how challenging that is.”

In a message to campus, Jones said face coverings will be required in all indoor spaces and may only be removed outdoors when an uninterrupted 6-foot distance can be maintained between individuals. Students residing on campus will not be required to wear face covering when in their own room or residence hall suite, but masks will be required for all other shared residential spaces.

Jones added that instructors will have the option of wearing a face shield during instruction, as an alternative to a cloth face covering, to enable learners to better understand their speech. They will be required to use a face covering immediately before and after instruction. Faculty and staff are not required to wear a face covering while at their private offices.

During the town hall, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler said that there will be a mechanism in place to report noncompliance to the COVID Response Team, but the goal is to create a culture of compliance.

“We do that partly by setting clear expectations in town-hall conversations like this and in other materials and also empowering people with what they need to be compliant,” she said, noting that all those coming back to campus will receive PPE kits. In addition, the campus community will be required to participate in video training that explains the expectations around safety protocols on campus. The university is also drafting a “Community Commitment” that will outline clear expectations for members of the community to live, work and learn on campus.

Students who require an accommodation for mask requirements due to health concerns are permitted to make request through Office of Student Accessibility Services. Employees can request an accommodation through Human Resources.

“There is no easy path forward, but please know we are thinking in a very deep and sustained way and working as quickly as we can to bring clarity at a moment when clarity is so hard to find,” said Rowe. “We are going to do everything in our power to meet our mission to ensure our students stay on track to their degrees while safeguarding the health of our community in making this a place that you can work and where we can be together in pandemic.

“We need to hang together as we create these solutions.”