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Together Again: Fall Semester Protocols – A Message from President Clark to Employees

Office of the President
Thursday 8/12/2021

Subject: Together Again: Fall Semester Protocols - A Message from President Clark to Employees

 

Dear campus community,

After a truly remarkable and massive university effort, the end of July witnessed four historic, emotional, and spectacular commencement ceremonies at Gillette Stadium for the classes of 2020 and 2021. On behalf of the 3,000 students that crossed our commencement stage one at a time and the 30,000 family and friends that safely cheered them on, I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to the key BSU staff members who spent months planning and organizing the events so beautifully. For the many staff members who volunteered four (or more) days in the middle of the summer to guide our graduates and to keep them both safe and exactly on time, you are our summer BSU superstars. I also am appreciative of the faculty, librarians, administrators and staff who attended one or more ceremonies to show our graduates just how much they mean to all of us at BSU. Your attendance was deeply meaningful to the graduates. Simply put, our graduates are both grateful and thrilled to have seen the very best of Bridgewater State University through those ceremonies.

Now that commencement activities are successfully behind us, it is time to turn the pages of summer toward the finalization of our fall “Together Again” planning. As we move forward to resuming in-person activities for the fall semester, I wanted to update you on public health measures we are taking to ensure the safety of our campus community. We are closely following the science, carefully reviewing and complying with federal CDC and state public health recommendations, and continually monitoring regional virus transmission data. Additionally, decision-making is guided by the Together Again Task Force and particularly the health subcommittee of the Task Force.

We are very cognizant of the surge associated with the Delta variant and, as we have done unwaveringly through the 17 months of the pandemic, we will always place the safety of our campus community first. But the safety of our community is not just in my hands; it is in your hands. The decisions you make, particularly around vaccinations, have consequences for the health of everyone on our campus. The information we have about the vaccination rates of our employees and students will significantly impact the public health measures we adopt this academic year.

In Person/On-Campus

Let me state at the outset that we are moving forward with our plans to offer most of our classes and student activities in person; the class schedule that students have today will be the class schedule they will have September 1. Further, returning staff to on-campus work will continue according to the plans approved by your division.

Vaccinations

As we all know, COVID-19 vaccinations are the single most effective means of both preventing individual infection and controlling the pandemic, and vaccinated individuals who contract the virus are far less likely to develop symptoms of COVID-19 and are at substantially reduced risk of severe illness. The CDC reported recently that 99.5% of COVID-related deaths are of individuals who are unvaccinated.

Our students have gotten this message. To date, through our attestation/verification efforts, we are very proud to report that 90% of all BSU students are fully vaccinated and the remainder are either partially vaccinated (but will be fully vaccinated soon) or are working through our exemption process. After comparing our data, we believe that BSU’s student response rate is significantly higher than at most other state university campuses, and we are continuing to aggressively push for students to be vaccinated and to attest. Further, 90% of attesting students have voluntarily provided their vaccination dates and the type of vaccine they received, and most have voluntarily uploaded their CDC vaccination cards. Attestations are formal representations made to the university and false representations are subject to the student conduct process.

Vaccination attestations are verifiable. BSU has access to the Massachusetts Immunization Information System (MIIS) database and can verify student vaccinations. This is a process that we have already undertaken to sample and confirm the accuracy of attestations that we have received. Thus far, every sampled student response has been verified as accurate. Needless to say, we are extremely pleased with the spectacular response of our BSU students who so clearly want and need to be back on campus and in our classrooms in September.

While BSU believes the great majority of our faculty and staff want to and will be vaccinated, to date only 66% of our employees have completed the employee vaccination attestation form, with 98.5% reporting that they are fully vaccinated. While we appreciate that attesting is voluntary due to collective bargaining requirements, the data we are collecting is one of the key factors we are taking into account in determining the public health measures we will require come the fall. I passionately believe that we all have a moral and ethical obligation to be vaccinated and to report our vaccination status so that the university can protect the safety of our entire campus community. A high vaccination percentage for the campus is what makes our return possible.

To set an example for others, non-unit professionals/employees (NUPs) will be required to be vaccinated (or granted an exemption) and submit an attestation by August 31, 2021. BSU is providing a limited grace period on a case-by-case basis for employees who have received their first shot but not reached fully vaccinated status. There will be allowances for NUPs with a medical or religious exemption. I was vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine on April 11 and again on May 2. I filled out the BSU attestation form in 15 seconds.

Masking

In light of the increase in positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant in our region (Plymouth County and Bristol County are regions of substantial and high transmission respectively), and with the goal of ensuring the safety of our campus community, effective August 23, BSU will be mandating that all members of our campus community (including vaccinated students, employees, and visitors) wear a mask in indoor public places. (There is one exception to the masking policy which I describe in the next paragraph.) This is an element of the “layered prevention strategies, such as wearing masks,” that the CDC states “are needed to reduce the transmission of this variant.” This policy will continue through September 30, at which time we will reevaluate this policy based on the vaccination status of our campus and updated public health information.

The MSCA faculty/librarian union has recently objected to an indoor masking policy for its members absent impact bargaining on that issue. Consequently, faculty and librarians will not need to mask under the mandatory policy until such time as impact bargaining hopefully concludes. For the safety of faculty and librarians, and for the safety of our students and the university community, I have strongly encouraged MSCA members to wear masks indoors during this interim period of negotiation.

Testing

As we announced to students separately today, those students who have been granted a medical or religious exemption from receiving the vaccine will be required to take a weekly COVID-19 test through the Wellness Center. This same policy will also apply to NUPs who have been granted an exemption. We have signed a new contract with the world-renowned Broad Institute to conduct our testing. If we receive a positive test result, BSU would immediately implement our robust contact tracing protocols, which were highly effective last year in helping the university to rapidly identify and isolate infected persons and to quarantine any persons who had close contact with an infected person. As was the case last year, tests will be free to all members of the campus community.

Learning & Working Spaces

In classrooms and labs, BSU has arranged desks and seats to provide for 3 feet of separation between students, as is the protocol for K-12 schools in Massachusetts. Further, the Capital Planning and Facilities Management departments have worked diligently to clean and disinfect classrooms, residence and dining halls, office spaces, and will continue to perform maintenance on mechanical equipment to ensure our buildings meet the highest required safety standards.

In the fall, classrooms that are utilized will be cleaned and disinfected daily. All office spaces will be cleaned and disinfected a minimum of once per day, while personal desk areas will be the responsibility of the employee. Restrooms in buildings where classes will be held will be cleaned and disinfected routinely throughout the day, while restrooms in buildings without classes will be cleaned and disinfected a minimum of once per day. High touch points will be maintained routinely throughout the course of the day.

We have received several inquiries regarding air quality and circulation in buildings and have fully investigated all such claims. BSU holds itself to the highest standards as set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). More than 3,200 filters in mechanical systems have all been recently replaced at the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating allowed per manufacturer’s design. All of our building mechanical systems are operating at or above ASHRAE standards for air exchanges. Hart Hall is the one exception during freezing temperatures and is undergoing a repair that will be completed in time for heating season.

We will continue to make adjustments periodically to our protocols as conditions and public health guidance warrant. For additional information and updated FAQs, please visit the Fall ’21 Return website. Please direct any questions you may have to Covid-19@bridgew.edu and we will respond as soon as possible.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, BSU has successfully and safely managed through this challenging period by working together with everyone doing their part to take care of our students and colleagues. I am looking forward to a great academic year with our campus being together again in service to our students and our region. Next week, we will be sending you an update on fall enrollments and the FY22 budget. In the meantime, please enjoy these waning days of summer.

Warmest regards,

Fred Clark
Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq.
President