Parent and Family Newsletter
Friday, December 11, 2020
Dear Albion Parents,
This has been a difficult semester for our whole community, and we are deeply grateful for the resilience, grace and flexibility that students and families have demonstrated. While it is unfortunate that a surge in regional cases, paired with a decrease in the availability of local healthcare facilities, led to a slightly earlier campus departure than planned, our students did an admirable job adapting to the health and safety protocols this fall.
On Monday, November 9, anticipating a push by the Calhoun County Public Health Department (CCPHD) to empty campus, we had given faculty the option to consider going on-line as early as Monday, November 16. More than 80% of faculty opted to do so. We hoped this move would allow us to de-densify campus while offering students whose programs and courses relied on in-person instruction the opportunity to finish the semester in person and safely.
On November 10, Governor Whitmer held a call with college and university presidents to encourage us to send students home as soon as possible. On Thursday, November 12, the CCPHD then informed us of two new developments. Regional medical facilities and the CCPHD had become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases and had moved to triage. CCPHD was not able to keep up with the contact tracing process. In this environment, we were not sure we could keep students safe even for more general medical needs like accidents.
In addition, conditions on campus had rapidly shifted. New CCPHD guidance required us to quarantine two entire fraternities and an athletics team because of a positive test in each. We put over 100 students into quarantine and nine into isolation. At the same time, two staff members in teams that are vital to the day-to-day management of the College received positive tests. Several staff members from each team were close contacts, severely limiting our capacity to maintain the health and safety of the campus for the 14 days that they were required to quarantine.
These changes happened in the space of four days, culminating in the decision to rapidly de-densify campus.
We quickly established a process for students who needed to apply for an exception. More than 280 students applied, and we provided additional resources to some for their journey home and allowed some to stay on campus a few days longer. Throughout, our priority has been keeping our students safe and allowing for as smooth a transition as possible under very difficult circumstances.
During Governor Whitmer’s November 10 call with college and university presidents, Michigan state health officials advised against testing before students leave, as, due to the long incubation period of the disease, a negative test on one day does not mean the person is not infected and will not become a spreader the next day. Instead, they strongly recommended that all students, even those in possession of a negative test, self-quarantine for 14 days after leaving campus.
Throughout the semester, we maintained a rigorous community testing program. Before students left campus, we were testing approximately 200-300 students from among our key residential areas, along with athletes who were in close contact sports and symptomatic or quarantined individuals. This testing, together with our wastewater testing, gave us a 98% chance of identifying a positive in time to isolate it. We have not stopped this scientific approach to testing, and we are already planning for innovations in our testing protocols this spring.
The College is not able to offer refunds for the final seven days of on-campus classes. To date, the College has spent over $1M on testing. Additionally, the College invested hundreds of thousands of dollars modifying the physical environment on campus with tents, plexiglass barriers, door openers, and other adaptations, and hundreds of thousands of dollars moving students back to campus early to prepare safely for the beginning of the fall semester to allow for a residential learning experience. While we are grateful to have received generous support from friends and donors to assist with these efforts, these have only partially covered our expenses.
Looking Ahead to Spring
Our faculty and staff are working hard to map out a spring semester that builds on all we have learned this fall regarding on-campus instruction. We are processing all of the student feedback we have received throughout the semester to make improvements to our approach to a safe and healthy in-person experience. In November, we established the COVID-19 Student Accountability Committee and will be working with these student leaders to evolve our policies and practices. We know that students can lead these efforts if we give them the support they need to hold one another accountable.
Our review has already led to ideas that will lower stress for next semester including the introduction of four break days, one in each module, and the return of some level of in-person dining on campus. Additionally, with new rapid testing available that will provide results within an hour, we anticipate the ability to allow for far more social activities and are even considering expanding off-campus employment opportunities as well as approved grocery shopping options.
To stay connected with parents and families, we will be using this newsletter to share regular updates about the College’s COVID-19 response and other campus activities, events and initiatives. Please pass on the subscription link to those you think would like to sign up. We will be sharing similar updates with students in regular emails.
Thank you for all you do to support our Albion community. I look forward to being in regular touch over the coming weeks, and I hope you and your families are enjoying a safe and healthy start to the holiday season.
Dr. Mathew Johnson
President, Albion College