The Task Force on Reopening the Colgate Campus has met weekly throughout the spring semester, both with the Health Analytics Team and independently, to monitor the operationalization of this academic year’s reopening plan, to assess the current health status of the Colgate community, to redefine the Gates, to explore questions related to vaccinations, and to look ahead to the fall semester amidst the ever-changing guidelines and reopening of the country.
Over the last several weeks, we spent extensive time reflecting on the emerging data related to vaccinations and variants of SARS-CoV-2. We have considered the quickly-shifting attitudes toward public health precautions and the implications of these changes on the campus operations for the 2021 fall semester. We explored multiple scenarios: from opening fully to opening with significant modifications, such as the need for continued physical distancing in all classrooms with concomitant schedule modifications to allow for full in-person instruction. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines evolve, most recently by decreasing the physical distancing requirements from six feet to three in K-12 schools, and relaxing the travel restrictions at the state and federal levels, the Task Force was required to plan for the fall semester with many unknowns - a reality that has framed our work for more than 10 months.
Based on the Task Force’s analysis (and some necessary assumptions), we make the following recommendations, anticipating that i) all faculty and staff who would like a vaccine will be able to secure one; ii) epidemiological evidence will continue to support the early findings that vaccines are efficacious against currently-known variants of the virus, and are moderately-to-largely effective in preventing asymptomatic transmission; and, iii) epidemiological research continues to support the low risk of transmission within classroom settings worldwide. We are also hopeful that the Biden administration’s promise of readily available vaccines to all adults (persons over 16 years) by the end of May will mean that any student who wishes to be vaccinated will have access to one prior to the start of next academic year.
The Task Force recommends reopening the campus to students for in-person instruction, assuming that State and local guidelines and our own internal health metrics (as monitored by the Health Analytics Team), indicate that it is appropriate. The Task Force recommends that the default planning model should be fully residential, with full in-person classes, though with the expectation that the University may need to adjust as needed to public health conditions.
The Commitment to Community Health, as a community public health compact, was instrumental in establishing and enforcing behavioral standards that limited the potential spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the Colgate community during this past academic year. However, continued enforcement of a restrictive public health code of conduct beyond the current academic semester is likely not feasible due to community fatigue and mixed messages throughout the nation around infection control measures and restrictions. Further, there is emerging guidance for vaccinated individuals that would require a nuanced approach that would be difficult to enforce (recent CDC guidance permits two asymptomatic vaccinated individuals to share space without the need for physical distancing or face coverings, for instance.) Therefore, in consideration for opening in the fall with full in-person classes, the Task Force does not advocate for guidelines that rely on the current Commitment to Community Health, knowing that it will not likely be practiced by students outside of the classroom. Thus, as will be discussed below, we recommend that employees and students re-commit to public health principles that are much more modest than those we have adhered to this last year.
We submit these recommendations with the caveat that we need to continue to be flexible in our planning and adjust as needed. The summer months are likely to be the best months we have seen in this pandemic with warmer weather and increased vaccination rates throughout the United States. Some nations, however, (including Canada and a number of countries in Europe) are experiencing new rises in infection rates in advance of widespread vaccination; it is also likely that virus variants with potentially altered transmission dynamics will continue to arise. As always, the Task Force holds firm in our convictions that Colgate’s model of residential education is important and powerful, and worth the challenges it entails, even during a pandemic. Whatever the summer and 2021-2022 academic year holds, we take comfort and pride that we will be, as always, Colgate Together.
The Task Force on the Reopening of the Colgate Campus
Geoffrey Holm, Associate Professor of Biology, Co-chair
Paul J. McLoughlin II, Vice President and Dean of the College, Co-chair
Gus Coldebella ‘91, Trustee
Dan Gough, Associate Vice President for Campus Safety, Emergency Management, and
Environmental Health and Safety
Carolyn Hsu, Professor of Sociology
Krista Ingram, Professor of Biology
Ellen Percy Kraly, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies
Bob McVaugh, Professor of Art and Art History
Juliana Smith, Deputy Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator (FAC)
Priscilla Van Wynsberghe, Associate Professor of Biology (FAC)
The remainder of this memo articulates specific recommendations.