June 21 Message to Faculty and Staff: Fall Planning and Reducing Risk

To Our Faculty and Staff:

Just before Memorial Day, we wrote regarding the process of preparing for a fall semester with students and classes back on campus.

We noted the multiple internal groups and stakeholders involved in decision-making, as well as experts in epidemiology and infectious disease helping to inform our work.

As we have emphasized throughout this pandemic, the health and safety of the campus community is our highest priority.

Since those messages, the ranks of faculty and staff working on campus have grown to more than 2,000, with each group participating in health orientation sessions and each workspace evaluated and adapted to address health concerns.

Meanwhile, the schools’ academic deans have been working nonstop to develop modified calendars for the 2020-21 semesters, while also providing thoughtful guidance about equitably educating students on- and off-campus. They are not only addressing the fundamental complexities of reduced classroom capacities in the context of social distancing, but also suggesting creative new approaches to enhance academic experiences on campus.

In addition, the Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education is working with groups of faculty on developing a few models for delivering different kinds of courses (e.g. from performance- to lecture-based), while our deans and other faculty representatives are engaged in developing protocols for faculty returning to campus this fall.

We deeply appreciate all of these efforts, as well as those who have taken the time to pose important questions and provide thoughtful feedback throughout all of these efforts. We expect to be able to provide more comprehensive details regarding inter-related efforts early next month.

Today, however, we want to update you on some of the more fundamental aspects of preparing for the fall semester, particularly with regard to teaching on campus. While planning is far from final, we recognize that even limited detail is better than none—especially amid so much other uncertainty.

Reducing Risk: Personal Protection

Cloth Masks Required—and Provided: All faculty, staff and students will receive two cloth masks upon their return to campus. Masks must be worn when indoors, except in such instances where people are regularly alone (i.e. an individual office) or in settings where people cannot come within 6 feet of one another. Masks are not required when outdoors, except in settings where physical distancing is difficult (e.g. a bus shelter with multiple people waiting, a corner where so many people are waiting to cross that 6 feet of separation becomes unlikely).

Surgical Masks Available: These masks, which feature cloth ties rather than elastic, allow for tighter fit. Those who would prefer this option may request them before arriving on campus.

Face Shields Also Available: Those who would like to supplement their masks with face shields—which provide protection for eyes as well—may request them before arriving on campus. These must be worn with face masks.

N-95 Respirators: Usually reserved for health care settings or other environments of particularly high risk, these devices are designed to block 95 percent of very small airborne particles. They come in different sizes, and typically are fitted to individual faces to ensure tight seals. Because respirators can make breathing more difficult, medical evaluations often are required to determine an individual’s fitness to wear such a device. The Environmental Health and Safety Office will develop and manage the process for securing N-95s for those who wish to wear them; the university will provide additional details regarding that process once it is finalized.

Reducing Risk: Facilities Measures

Plexiglass Dividers: As part of the assessment process involved in returning units to campus, the university has determined which areas require dividers between desks and/or three-sided enclosures (most often for those in roles where they regularly interact with the public). These pieces also can be attached to lecture podiums to provide additional protection when teaching classes.

Indoor Air Management: Facilities staff are assessing and addressing all existing and potential classroom spaces with regard to ventilation and circulation. Details include preventive maintenance of mechanical HVAC systems, upgraded filters and edge-sealing, and maximized outdoor air supply. These steps align with the American National Standards Institute/American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Standard 62.1 (2019), which can be found online.

Enhanced Cleaning Protocols: The facilities team will implement an enhanced cleaning program whose elements (e.g. frequency, intensity) align with the schedule of use and type of occupancy (e.g. office, classroom, residence hall). This program will involve regular cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and objects (e.g. keyboards, desks, remote controls), as well as provision of kits (including sanitizer, wipes, and disinfectant spray) for additional cleaning prior to individual use throughout the day.

Classroom Capacity Assessments: As part of preparing for on-campus instruction in the fall, we needed new room capacity figures that incorporate physical distance requirements for each traditional classroom space, as well as additional rooms to be repurposed for those functions. Starting with preliminary review of traditional classroom spaces by a local architecture firm, facilities and emergency management conducted follow-up assessments to confirm or adapt initial findings for those more-traditional classrooms and lecture halls. From there, facilities and emergency management evaluated more distinctive academic spaces—for example, teaching and simulation labs, performance rooms, and other areas not previously used for teaching (e.g. Tinkham Veale University Center ballrooms, etc.)—ultimately developing capacity data for more than 500 spaces. The additional information—beyond the original architectural review—is now being incorporated into modeling of room availability involving the registrar and other units within the Office of the Provost. The process of removing and rearranging seats already has begun, and will continue throughout the summer.

Campus Dining: All meals will be grab-and-go, meaning that people will not be able to use salad bars or other self-serve options, nor request food prepared to order while in the facility (in some cases, online orders may be able to be met). Limited physically distant indoor dining will be permitted, but all customers will be encouraged to dine outside the facility as a first option.

Reducing Risk: Individual Responsibilities

Daily Health Assessment: Before coming to campus or leaving residence halls, all students, staff and faculty are expected to complete a brief online health assessment regarding symptoms, potential exposure and other factors related COVID-19 infection.

Masks: All students, staff and faculty are expected to wear at least a cloth mask whenever indoors, except in spaces where no other person is expected to come within 6 feet of them. Students will be required to indicate their acceptance of these and other health responsibilities prior to arriving on campus.

Physical Distancing and Related Measures: All students, faculty and staff are expected to maintain a minimum of 6 feet from one another when indoors, whether in a lecture hall, seminar room, lab space, dining area or waiting line. They also are expected to comply with signage relating to elevator and restroom limits, and entrance/exit aisles and doorways.

Reducing Risk: Testing and Tracing

Testing: Since late February, university leaders and health services staff have worked closely with campus and hospital infectious disease specialists and other experts to inform and improve each step taken to protect the health of the campus community. Those collaborations have continued and expanded as planning turned to fall, growing to include colleagues at other universities, epidemiologists, and public health experts, among others. As part of that process, we are updating our spring protocols for testing those with COVID-19 symptoms and, in turn, for those who test positive. In addition, we are developing screening protocols for undergraduate students who will live on campus, including approaches to testing those who are asymptomatic.

Finally, we are following findings regarding serology testing to determine their potential value in estimating the proportion of the campus population that has been infected. As many of you know, the availability, nature and efficacy of various tests continues to change rapidly; we will continue to adjust our protocols in response to new developments.

Tracing: We are refining our existing spring protocols for contact tracing for instances when infection is suspected or confirmed, and exploring multiple technological improvements to improve the speed and efficiency of identifying and communicating with those who may have been exposed.

We will provide more information about each aspect of these efforts when details are closer to being finalized.

Reducing Risk: Next Steps Involving Instruction

Larger Lectures: Depending on the space, physical distancing requirements can reduce room capacities by as much as 60 to 70 percent. As a result, in-person instruction for larger lecture enrollments will be impossible. In addition, such courses are among those that can be delivered online with less of a negative impact on the educational experience.

Other Lecture Courses: Depending on course times, space availability and enrollment sizes, some may still be delivered on campus, while others also will need to be entirely online. In several instances, determinations regarding courses’ respective modes may incorporate instructors’ preferences.

Smaller Courses and Seminars: Whenever possible, these should be delivered in person.

Offerings that Require Hands-On Activities: Labs, simulation experiences, physical education and performing arts courses are among those where in-person experiences are essential. We will ensure that these classes take place in appropriate campus spaces.

As we prepare to have students taking courses on campus, we also recognize that some of our students may not be able to attend in person for some or all of the semester (for reasons ranging from visa challenges to health circumstances relating to themselves or family members). As we first noted April 9 and discussed in subsequent messages (May 5, May 29, etc.), in-person classes must also be able to be offered remotely. UTech’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT), as well as the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE), Office of Faculty Development and Kelvin Smith Library, all offer resources to assist faculty in planning for dual-delivery of courses.

Reducing Risks: Remaining Questions

The Centers for Disease Control states that those 65 and older are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Our most recent data—from the 2019-2020 academic year—shows that 23 percent of our faculty meet this criteria. Other risk factors for severe illness include those with moderate to severe asthma or who are immunocompromised.

We recognize that faculty who fall into these categories have valid reasons to avoid settings that increase risk of exposure—whether a restaurant, retail store, or a campus classroom. We also understand that other factors—for example, K-12 school operations and available child care—can affect faculty ability to teach on campus.

At the same time, however, we also know that families and individuals enroll in our educational programs over others because of the rich nature of the academic experience. Again and again, our undergraduate students cite their experiences with faculty—in both teaching and mentoring—as among the most important and meaningful aspects of their time at Case Western Reserve. Similarly, incoming first-years often point to a classroom experience or other interaction with professors as key factors in their decisions to enroll.

While you demonstrated exceptional adaptability in so quickly moving courses online this spring, some families did question the comparative value of remote classes versus those experienced in-person. As we prepare for fall, families are asking again about campus academic experiences as they weigh their own students’ enrollment choices for the upcoming semester. We already have made difficult financial decisions to address anticipated shortfalls, and will not know if they are enough to offset losses until after the fall semester is well underway.

Our staff in undergraduate admissions and across other offices are doing all that they can to maintain enrollment, and the student affairs team is working to develop co-curricular programming that engages students while also protecting their health and well-being. We will continue to communicate with you about their efforts, as well as our progress regarding reducing health risks for everyone on campus this fall.

We hope this initial information is helpful as you plan and prepare for fall. We look forward to sharing more advanced details of academic planning in early July.

Barbara R. Snyder

Ben Vinson III
Provost and Executive Vice President