Faculty and Staff - January 18, 2022

Dear Campus Community,

Thankfully, we survived the weekend winter weather and I hope all made it back to campus safely. I now want to address a question that is likely on the minds of many and that I have seen a few times in my email box: With the Omicron variant running rampant, why doesn’t Winthrop pivot to virtual instruction? 

The rationale for staying in person and keeping to our approved academic calendar schedule is multi-pronged:

·         While COVID remains a very serious health concern, we are fortunate this current variant is characterized by milder symptoms in the vaccinated, with a decreased risk of serious illness and hospitalization for the majority of unvaccinated individuals. Even so, it remains very important to adhere to the mitigation strategies we have implemented during this pandemic, especially masking and opportunities for vaccination.

·         The majority of our students and faculty/staff are vaccinated (insofar as we can document), and that provides greater protection against illness for all of us. In fact, I am pleased that our percentage of in-person students who are fully vaccinated is now at 74 percent and that we identified nearly 200 positive students who were not allowed to return to the residence halls and in-person classes, which is evidence our re-entry protocol is effective. 

·         We have proven as a community working together that we can stay in-person safely (as we did last semester when the Delta variant was surging) by enforcing our masking requirement, physically distancing and avoiding crowds. In addition, we advise when possible to utilize KN95 masks as they have been more effective against this variant than other masks. Our EHS team is working to procure these for the campus as soon as possible.

·         While we have seen an increase in the number of faculty/staff reporting mild illness and potential exposure, the campus is managing this increase. Faculty are shifting to online assignments as necessary, and they are reminded to keep their chairs fully informed of any temporary changes to modality or coverage assistance needed. Staff are working together to share duties for those who must quarantine. I appreciate the kindness and patience I have seen in abundance as we continue to work through the pandemic as a community.

We always have looked to the experts in the public health community for guidance, and epidemiologists tell us that the rate of COVID infections due to Omicron will drop significantly by the end of January. This information and the reasons above give us relative confidence that we will ride out this wave without significant ill effects. We also should recognize that our campus is certainly a safer place to be right now than many public spaces because of our mitigation efforts and the precautions we are taking.

As noted in my message last week…

·         Vaccination remains your best defense against COVID-19. Our next combined testing and vaccination clinic will be Tuesday, February 15, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in McBryde. 

·         For the next couple of months, we must remain vigilant about mask wearing, physical distancing and respiratory etiquette, considering that there are illnesses like the flu and RSV circulating in addition to COVID. 

·         Students should report positive results and exposure on the QI form in the Medicat Patient Portal, upload a positive test result, and email covidreporting@winthrop.edu. It is very important to answer your phone when Health Services calls and promptly respond to all correspondence. See Health Services’ COVID-19 information page for additional details. 

·         Faculty and staff should report a positive test, symptoms, or exposure through the HR COVID-19 electronic form. Do not come to work if you are sick or if you have tested positive. You will be contacted by someone from HR regarding next steps, including the need to quarantine based on individual circumstances. HR will assign the quarantine period if quarantine is necessary and the return to work date.  In order to keep our campus as safe as possible it is extremely important that faculty and staff report COVID-related issues to HR and not rely on their own interpretation of quarantine protocol. 

Needless to say, we will continue to monitor the spread and impact of the virus and will be ready to adjust our plans if necessary.  The COVID Response team has provided leadership with triggers that would indicate changing our current approach. I appreciate all of those who have reached out with their concerns, and I am confident that together we will get through this phase of the pandemic. 



George W. Hynd
Interim President