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COVID-19 Update and Planning for Fall 2021


Message Highlights:

  • Cases of COVID-19 have significantly decreased, but we must remain vigilant.
  • We do not know when we will receive a supply of the vaccine.
  • We do not anticipate making any significant changes as a result of Pennsylvania’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
  • We expect to return to a primarily in-person residential learning experience for the fall 2021 semester.
  • Planning for the fall is just getting underway. We will share more detailed information as soon as we can.

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

Nearly a year ago to the day, we began to recognize that COVID-19 would be a disruptive force in our lives. We could not have imagined just how devastating it would be, nor could we have anticipated the duration of this global health crisis. Fortunately, there are reasons for optimism. For instance, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in the number of cases and COVID-related deaths across the country, along with a steady increase in the number of vaccines being distributed. We remain hopeful that more doses of the vaccine will be available for distribution in our region, including at the College. Though we are in regular contact with county health officials, we do not know when we will receive a supply of the vaccine to distribute to the campus community.

Recent Changes to Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Restrictions 

You may be aware that Pennsylvania recently eased some of its COVID-19 restrictions, including removing the restrictions around traveling out of the commonwealth. As a result, the College will no longer require faculty and staff members who elect to travel out of state for personal reasons to follow specific quarantine and testing protocols related to that travel. However, we continue to urge individuals to exercise extreme caution and good judgment when making decisions about personal travel and other activities that may increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. You must continue to abide by the Garnet Pledge and undergo COVID-19 testing in accordance with the College’s testing protocols. As a reminder, College-related travel remains prohibited; rare exceptions may be considered by the appropriate member of the President’s Staff.

Based on guidance from our medical and public health partners, we do not anticipate making any other significant changes to our campus safety policies and protocols at this point. They have served us well, allowing us to keep the number of positive COVID-19 cases within our campus community relatively low. Please remain vigilant. We may well be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but complacency will threaten to derail our efforts. As always, we will continue to evaluate the situation and make adjustments if necessary in the best interest of our community’s health and safety.

Planning for Fall 2021

While nobody knows for certain what the future holds, these positive trends, coupled with the guidance we’re receiving from the medical and public health officials with whom we’ve been consulting throughout this crisis, lead us to expect that we will return to a primarily in-person residential learning experience for the fall 2021 semester. That will also mean returning to our typical academic calendar. To be clear, that expectation comes with a number of caveats. For instance, if the virus surges once again; if the vaccine supply fails to meet demand by the end of the summer; or if new variants emerge that prove to be resistant to the vaccines that are currently available, we may have to reconsider that approach.

Even as we plan to return to a primarily in-person residential learning experience, the pandemic will no doubt change many aspects of our day-to-day operations. I appreciate that there are myriad issues, guidelines, and policies that may need to be adapted, created, and/or left behind as a result. We will approach that work through a consultative process that continues to prioritize the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff while also supporting and strengthening a sense of community across the College; ensuring a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace; responding to the needs and well-being of faculty and staff; and supporting the needs and mission of the College.

Please understand that we are just now beginning to plan for the fall in earnest. Though I don’t have more specific information to share with you at this point, I wanted to give you this news as soon as possible to help with your planning and with ours. And while I cannot answer the numerous and varied questions that I suspect many of you have, I can commit to you that, as our planning process moves forward, we will look for your input and feedback, and we will keep you informed of developments as they emerge.

I want to express my deep gratitude for your continued patience, flexibility, understanding, and empathy. And thank you for doing all that you can to keep yourselves and each other safe and healthy as we find our way through — and ultimately emerge from — this pandemic.


Val Smith