To the Eastern Michigan University community:
The fall semester is underway and I am pleased to report that we have had an excellent start to the new academic year. Thank you to our students for the great adjustments in their lives as they work hard to continue their education in the midst of a pandemic that has caused such great fear and uncertainty. Whether you are currently a senior, junior, sophomore, graduate student, or a member of the incoming class of 2024, we are aware of the enormous challenges you are overcoming. And, likewise to our faculty and staff, a huge thank you for the accommodations you have made and continue to make in your lives, work schedules, teaching and work practices in order to ensure our students have a great experience.
A reminder to monitor the University’s COVID-19 Planning and Preparedness website (link below) for all matters related to our plans moving forward. The site is the primary hub for University initiatives related to our planning and response to COVID-19, including the Safe Return-to-Campus Plan Guidebook, the COVID PASS Daily Health Screening, the COVID-19 Report Form, Building Entry and Exit Points, and more. Bookmark this page as updates will continue to be posted here on an ongoing basis.
Today’s message will address many important topics:
· First week of classes opening impressions
· Expanded COVID-19 testing
· Reporting of COVID-19 cases
· Take the Pledge. Stop the Spread.
· Important reminders: Updates to processes and procedures
· Swoop’s Food Pantry fall hours
· Highlighting excellence
First week of classes opening impressions
In my visits to campus this week I was able to see firsthand the results of our planning over the summer. They include:
· Plexiglass check-in stations staffed by conscientious Student Ambassadors.
· The online daily health screening process that pushes a green “go” message to your mobile device or computer if you are cleared to come to campus, or a “red” message if you are not. Those who receive a red message are provided detailed instructions on next steps that follow our health protocols.
· Classrooms expanded or rearranged to accommodate physical distancing.
· Moveable plexiglass shields in many classrooms.
· #EMUSafe signage everywhere – from the campus digital monitors inside buildings and the exterior large displays, to directional arrows in hallways and stairways, clear markings for building entrances and exits, floor markers indicating six-foot distancing, seat markings in classrooms showing where to sit to maintain physical distance, room capacity signs outside of classrooms, labs, elevators and restrooms, and many reminder signs across campus about #EMUSafe practices – mandatory face coverings, physical distancing, hand washing, and hand sanitizer stations that are well marked and visible.
· A one-button “hotline” on classroom VoIP phones that goes directly to facilities when a faculty member becomes aware of the need for additional cleaning supplies.
A word about our Student Ambassadors. We have hired, through Engage@EMU, 80 students to help staff our check-in tables and encourage fellow students to follow #EMUSafe practices. The Ambassadors completed a training program prior to taking on the role. It is wonderful to be able to provide this opportunity to our students while fulfilling an important University need. You will see our Student Ambassadors on campus in their green #EMUSafe t-shirts with the message “We’ve got your back” on the back side.
The University’s media team did a tour of campus on Monday’s opening day to capture the experiences of students and others, as well as many photos of the items described above. Please visit “Scenes from a most unusual opening morning of classes at Eastern Michigan University.”
Expanded COVID-19 testing
In the August 24 announcement delaying move-in and transitioning to online classes for the start of the semester until September 21, I indicated that one of the primary reasons for the delay was to provide more time to identify expanded opportunities for testing greater numbers of students. The availability of rapid and reliable COVID-19 testing kits is increasing as more testing providers come into the marketplace.
As you recall, our initial plan was to test all incoming residential students and certain specific student populations (student-athletes, marching band members and employees who work with these groups).
Several options for expanded testing were presented at the University’s Safe Return Steering Committee meeting this morning. Those options will be evaluated further over the next week with the hopes of firming up our plans by the end of next week. We will share the plan with the campus community when completed.
Reporting of COVID-19 cases
The University is in the process of developing a public dashboard to post the number of positive cases of COVID-19 among our campus community, as well as other important data about the number of tests administered on behalf of the University and the aggregated results of those tests. Plans and details for the content of the dashboard were discussed at today’s Safe Return Steering Committee meeting. We expect to have an initial version of the dashboard posted publicly next week.
As part of the development of the dashboard, the University initiated a review of reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic. We had not previously reported these cases in the aggregate because nearly all cases between March and July involved no close campus contacts owing to the greatly reduced scope of campus operations during that time. However, the cumulative impact of COVID-19 on members of our campus community is deep and should be recognized and understood both currently and cumulatively.
As of August 31, the University has received a cumulative total a total of 68 positive COVID-19 cases dating back to March 2020. Of those 68 cases, three are employees who tested positive in March and April; 61 represent students that were off-campus and had no on-campus interactions; and, four are students who had been on-campus. The majority of these cases date to March and April when the University was for the most part operating remotely.
As noted above, we will report aggregate positive case numbers and tests initiated by the University on a regular basis now as we begin the phased increase in campus operations. Please watch for the official launch date for the dashboard in the coming days!
A reminder that the Washtenaw County Health Department, with University support and assistance, conducts contact tracing on positive cases related to on-campus activities. Any Eastern community members who are deemed to have had the potential to be exposed to the virus from someone on campus, who tested positive, are notified directly and provided information about what they should do. Please use the COVID-19 Report Form (link below) should you become aware of a case or test positive yourself so that we may follow up and prevent any spread of the virus.
Take the Pledge. Stop the Spread.
I’m pleased to report that more than 1,200 community members have signed on to the voluntary effort to encourage safe behavior. This includes more than 1,000 students. We understand that while taking classes remotely if you are a student, or working remotely if you are faculty or staff, it may not seem as important to participate in this voluntary campaign. Regardless of where and how you are taking classes or working, we hope everyone will see the value in participating and their personal responsibility to make a difference in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Please visit “Take the Pledge. Stop the Spread.” to sign up if you have not already done so.
Important reminders: Updates to processes and procedures
Over the past two weeks we have distributed several University messages regarding updates on processes and protocols related to the start of the fall semester. Given the fluid situation in which we find ourselves, we will continue to provide our community with updates on critical matters related to our operations this fall.
It is vitally important that you continue to monitor your University email for these messages. Please read these carefully, save them and refer back to them as needed.
To recap these important messages of the week (links included for each):
For students and employees
We will continue to share important information in the days and weeks ahead.
Swoop’s Food Pantry fall hours
Next week, the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry Room will be open on Wednesday (9/9/2020) from 12 - 6:30 p.m. and Thursday (9/10/2020) from noon 5 p.m.
Regular fall hours will begin the following week (starting 9/14/2020). They are Mondays and Thursdays from 12 - 5 p.m., and Wednesdays from 12 - 6:30 p.m.
Shoppers are requested to complete an Online Shopping Request Form before arriving. Items will be bagged by staff and brought out to clients when they arrive. Visitors to Swoop’s can enter through the main entrance on the north side of Pierce Hall near the elevator. Swoop’s requires any student who has not used the pantry this year to complete the new 2020-21 Swoop's Food Pantry Intake Form.
If you wish to donate items – Swoop’s “Top Ten” are:
· Non-dairy milk
· Pasta sauce
· Microwavable meals
· Beef ramen
· Notebooks and backpacks
· Size 6 diapers
· Hand soap and hand sanitizer
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org in advance to make sure someone is present to handle your delivery.
Please maintain physical distancing guidance when picking up or delivering items to the Pantry.
Highlighting Eastern Michigan University excellence
I am pleased to again share with you an example of University excellence!
Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation and Cultural Geography Matthew Cook is part of a five-person team that has received a $508,350 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research the extent to which museums serve the public through documenting, preserving, and interpreting difficult contemporary events alongside and in cooperation with their communities.
The grant focuses specifically on African American historical and cultural narratives, building upon earlier pilot research that asked “What is the role of the museum in the 21st century?” and “How do American museums change and adapt their narrative emphasis in response to contemporary events?”
The grant abstract reads: “In an era of increased public awareness of interracial police violence, the school-to-prisons pipeline, cycles of racially infused violence and protest seen, for example, from the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 to the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, and the Black Lives Matter movement, this research seeks to analyze how museums situated in varied geographic locations address controversial current events as part of their missions to support communities at the local, regional, and national levels.”
Using funding in the summer of 2019 from the James H. Brickley Endowment for Faculty Professional Development and Innovation, Cook first gathered pilot data at museums in the Midwest and Southeast, which helped in the successful application for the NSF grant.
Congratulations Professor Cook!
Health and safety reminder
As I do each week, I will conclude with an important health and safety reminder. This is more important than usual as we enter into a long Labor Day holiday weekend, which for many of us brings back memories of large gatherings. Please continue to:
· Practice effective hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers;
· Wear face coverings; and,
· Observe physical distancing.
These three actions, when taken together, dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Please continue to follow the University’s COVID-19 Planning and Preparedness website for ongoing updates.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend.
James Smith, Ph.D.