The Task Force for Reopening Colgate met extensively over the last month. Importantly, we began by articulating the principles (Appendix A) that would guide our work while allowing us to hold multiple, and oftentimes competing, priorities. We acknowledge that the first priority of Colgate University should be to provide for the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff, as well as the communities within the Village of Hamilton and Madison County. We also understand that Colgate functions at its best through in-person, residential education and vibrant faculty research, and a return to this model of education as rapidly as is feasible is the most desirable outcome. We sought to formulate our recommendations following studious review and assimilation of guidance from multiple local, state, and federal agencies on the safe reopening for higher educational institutions during the coronavirus pandemic, and with the latest available scientific and public health data. We reviewed dozens of other colleges and university statements and plans, attended various webinars from public health agencies and university associations, as well as consulted widely with our colleagues at peer institutions. We met with various stakeholders, including Village of Hamilton board members, Hamilton Central School District officials, the Village Mayor, the Emergency Operations section chiefs, the Staff Interest Group on staff representation in University decision-making, and the Task Force on Remote Learning, to ensure that we included important voices and considerations as we formulated our recommendations. While additional information will undoubtedly emerge in the coming weeks and months, as it has daily since we began our work, we are confident that the Task Force’s recommendations are predicated on the best information available to us at this time.
From all of our research, the guidance is unequivocal about the need for: (1) adequate testing—in order to try to detect active SARS-CoV-2 infections, in both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, (2) effective contact tracing—to try to identify individuals who were potentially exposed to infected patients so that these individuals can take precautions to prevent further disease spread, and (3), adequate self-quarantine and isolation capacity—to try to prevent further contact of infected individuals with a susceptible population. The Task Force’s recommendations are predicated on these “gating conditions” being met at Colgate.
The Task Force carefully considered multiple models for repopulating the campus, including full occupancy and various models of partial occupancy. We concluded that partial occupancy models would be less likely than a full occupancy model to (i) be equitable for students; (ii) allow for key moments in campus life (including without limitation the First-Year Experience and the Senior spring semester); (iii) accommodate individual students with academic need to be on campus; and (iv) decrease overall risk, because partial occupancy would require multiple entry moments of students and their families arriving to Colgate throughout the semester. For these and multiple other reasons, including the challenges of teaching large groups of students simultaneously in person and remotely, the Task Force recommends reopening the campus to the full student body for the Fall Semester of 2020.
This decision, of course, is contingent upon permissions from the state and local governments, as well as COVID-19 being under control in central New York at the time of student arrival. In addition, it requires the opening of other support institutions, including local schools and daycares, so that staff and faculty are available to directly and indirectly educate and support our students.
The members of the Task Force acknowledge that a full occupancy in the fall is not without increased risk for the spread of SARS-CoV-2, considering that a full occupancy also means the highest density of students, faculty, and staff on campus. Therefore, the remainder of the Task Force’s recommendations are predicated on prudently and conservatively mitigating risks to the greatest extent reasonably possible. In short, our recommendation for a return to campus is not a recommendation for a return to operations as usual.
The plan for a successful return to campus will require a willingness for all members of the Colgate community to engage in efforts aimed at preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, including diligence in wearing face coverings, adherence to physical distancing, meticulous proper hygiene habits, frequent campus cleaning, limiting travel to and from Hamilton, and refraining from gathering in large groups. It also requires consistent, updated, and accurate public health education to combat myths and misunderstandings of virus transmission. Similarly, it is important to communicate that the science on immunity protection for individuals with prior COVID-19 disease is still developing, and it is our responsibility as educators to facilitate evidence-based health promotion. For instance, individuals who have previously experienced COVID-19 are not exempt from a commitment to community health, or any other public health precautions, because the science has not yet confirmed that these individuals cannot contract or spread SARS-CoV-2.
We believe that a commitment to community health, applicable to faculty, staff, and students, requires the creation of a new policy that must be strictly enforced, along with outcomes that are sufficiently severe, to facilitate compliance. We recommend that the University clearly communicate the interdependency of the decision to return to campus with the community’s unwavering adherence to this new policy.
This recommendation allows flexibility and choice to permit faculty and students to continue instruction in a remote format, if desired or needed, or for students to remain at their primary residence this fall. Relatedly, successful completion of in-person instruction with residency this upcoming academic year will also require individuals to self-assess for disease symptoms on a daily basis, and to self-quarantine or isolate, and seek testing should they pose a threat for transmission. This plan will require changes to faculty pedagogy, both in person and remotely, to limit the possibility for transmission events within classrooms and other academic spaces, and to accommodate students and faculty who are unable to attend classes in person. Staff should also be supported to continue working remotely, when their position is conducive to such a format. The plan we are recommending will require a re-imagining of our classrooms, dining spaces, recreation, athletic, library, laboratory, and other spaces to facilitate physical distancing. Finally, it will require all members of the community to be honest, flexible, adaptive, accommodating, and caring—traits that we aspire to at the best of times that become even more important in this challenging one.
As the Task Force co-chairs indicated in a communication to the campus in the early stages of this work, we anticipated that even the best scaffolded plan for returning to in-person instruction would likely result in additional positive cases of COVID-19; in other words, no individual recommendation or comprehensive plan is without some risk. Although the Task Force worked to identify a recommendation that would be received favorably by everyone, we concluded, after much deliberation, that this was not possible. Instead, we offer recommendations that we believe, if followed, are reasonably calculated to mitigate the associated risks. The University will need to be prepared for the reality of positive COVID-19 cases and communicate this expectation so that the first cases during the semester are not seen as a failure and instead a scenario we anticipated and for which we are prepared.
We wish to underscore one specific element of our planning and discussions that ultimately led to the Task Force’s recommendation for reopening the campus to the full student body. We believe that an effective testing protocol is critical for success. Few colleges and universities have announced a plan to conduct baseline PCR testing for all students upon arrival and regularly thereafter; however, we believe that this is an essential practice to mitigate the risks associated with the density we have recommended, and that providing robust testing is reflective of Colgate’s commitment to campus and community safety. Ongoing surveillance testing, which might be in a batched or “pooled” format, together with the continuous monitoring and assessment of infection control measures effectiveness through the establishment of a University Health Analytics Team, should help facilitate early detection of cases within the campus population so that isolation can occur and spread of the virus can be minimized. We understand that this will be a significant expense to the University and make this recommendation in part because the University
- agreed to purchase its own high sensitivity rapid PCR diagnostic machine;
- is in conversations with third-party providers to provide for baseline testing, and;
- identified capacity for non-diagnostic, surveillance testing through the university’s Biology Department.
The Task Force acknowledges that meeting these challenges will continue to place a heavy burden on the tremendous staff who supports all of these efforts, including our emergency operations center, cleaning and maintenance crews, health services professionals, campus safety, environmental health and safety staff, and residential life staff, among others. We also know that Colgate staff already have worked to the point of exhaustion during this crisis, and that any recommendation for a return of students will require even more effort and attention to countless details. We strongly recommend immediate investments to support these efforts, through the addition of new positions tasked specifically with facilitating these COVID-19 efforts. These additional staff positions, as well as additional costs of testing, tracing, and isolation, and procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies to support the health and safety of our staff, faculty, and students, must be considered an essential part of the campus budget for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Finally, the Task Force would like to underscore that clear communications between all constituents of the Colgate and broader Hamilton communities, and beyond, is essential to ensure a coordinated, robust, and responsive strategy to help limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. We understand that the work of the Task Force does not end with these recommendations to the President and know that there is much work remaining to develop and to articulate the guidelines of our recommendations, as well as to make them happen operationally. We hope that, together, we can promote a campus culture centered on public health awareness and selflessness that will put us in the best possible position for the types of on-campus experiences that are central to a Colgate education. It is worth repeating what the Task Force communicated earlier: Our work has been inspired by the knowledge that we are fighting COVID-19 together. Our focus has been in support of this University and our students—both continuing students and incoming ones—and to each one of our faculty and staff colleagues.
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
- Amarachi Iheanyichukwu ’21, President, Student Government Association
- Krista Ingram, Professor of Biology
- Carolyn Hsu, Professor of Sociology
- 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 document articulates the basic principles that guide the Task Force’s recommendations in each of the various aspects of university operations. Specific recommendations follow in the Appendices.