Winthrop University: Faculty and Staff - February 26, 2021
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Faculty and Staff - February 26, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing today to share with you an update on our planning in regards to resumption of normal on-campus in-person instruction and employee return to work. Neither of these milestones would be possible without your cooperation over an extended period of time as we navigated the pandemic and adhered to campus protocols, including wearing face coverings, observing physical distancing, and practicing preventative hygiene like good hand-washing and sanitizing. Your cooperation has been much appreciated, and our collective efforts have paid off as we continue to post low numbers of active cases on campus.

Next Phase of Testing

As I shared last week, the SAFE (saliva-based) testing, thanks to our partnership with the USC College of Pharmacy, will help us assess asymptomatic spread, and based on what we learn from that testing, we will be in an even better position to judge the efficacy of our efforts.  I hope all of you will avail yourselves of this easy and convenient opportunity. The next date for testing is March 8.

A More Normal Fall Semester

Looking ahead, I am confident that we may well be able to start the fall semester with the traditional in-person learning and extracurricular offerings that our students and families have said, time and again, that they so desire. We have been purposeful in structuring the academic offerings to be more aligned with normal semesters, with our goal being upward of 80 percent of our courses to be taught in the in-person and hybrid modalities. On the residential side, we likely will shift back to our campus residency requirement for first- and second-year students and not provide waivers for all those who request one.

Forecasts are that the vaccine will be widely available by July, which would create the environment that, along with our continued campus protocols, make a more normal fall semester within reach. That said, we cannot yet predict how many students or community members will be vaccinated by the start of the fall semester, nor what impact, if any, variant strains of the virus may have. We will continue to monitor the latter, in particular, as well as infection rates across the state, with the option of pivoting back to online learning in the fall if warranted.

Return to Work

In December we assessed holiday-related risk, vaccine progress, and other factors to determine that we should remain in Phase 2 of our Return to Work plan (50 percent of the work force on campus at any given time) through March. Given that the state remains in phase 1a of SC DHEC’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, and we are still some ways out on when faculty and staff might expect to be eligible to receive the vaccine, my best judgment is to continue in Phase 2 through the end of the spring semester, so long as the Governor does not change his approach to allowing state agencies to make this decision for themselves. We are, indeed, fortunate that so many of our employees have private offices or can safely share space in some areas. Yet, we do not want to increase any risk of spreading the virus so long as the vaccine is not in abundant supply and vaccination readily available.

So as we approach the end of the academic year and start of Summer Session, we will assess our ability to safely go back to working full time on campus, guided as always by SCDHEC, the CDC, and health professionals. I am hopeful that summer may prove an excellent opportunity to enter Phase 3. We must continue to monitor the availability of vaccines, of course, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have most all of our employees who typically work during the summer on campus and available to focus on our incoming and continuing students? Recent board action to extend our discounted summer tuition for 2021 is expected to lead to another strong Summer Session enrollment, and frankly we also will need many hands on deck to collaborate most effectively on initiatives like the Academic Master Plan, Campus Master Plan, Campus Beautification Initiative, and review of the Winthrop Plan. By its nature, the summer work schedule (tentatively set for May 10-August 6) will allow employees flexibility if needed to adjust to a full return to work on campus.

To conclude, I am happy to share this good news relative to our planning, but as we have said for nearly a year now, the health and safety of our community is our top priority, and that cannot, and will not, change. We will continue to adjust our plans as needed, and I am confident if we all keep doing the right things, we will get through this semester and the summer safely, and then we can all pivot to a more normal, on-campus Winthrop experience in the fall.

Thank you again for all that you have done and continue to do to minimize the risk of COVID-19 on our campus. I hope you will join us on Tuesday, March 2, at 11 a.m. for our next town hall where we will talk more about aspects of our planning. Remember to submit your questions in advance to townhalls@winthrop.edu.

With gratitude,

George

George W. Hynd

Interim President

Last Updated: 7/13/22