August 7 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

My first update to you in August brings with it the excitement of knowing that this is the month when we will be welcoming students back to campus. It has been a long journey to get to this point and there is still much to do to finalize our preparations. However, after meetings today with all the faculty and all the staff, I can assure you that we will be ready—and excited—to welcome our first-arrivers on Monday, August 17.

At the same time, I must remind all of us that things can change rapidly and that we must remain flexible and be ready to adjust. There has been a recent uptick in cases here in Massachusetts and today the governor announced new restrictions and increased enforcement actions. You may have seen in the news that a few colleges in Massachusetts recently made the decision to move to remote operations for the fall term for reasons unique to each of those institutions. We believe we are ready to welcome students back, but not all of it is under our control. We continue to monitor the local and national trends, connect with other colleges and universities in the region, and analyze the state guidelines and health data every day. If we need to make changes in our plans, we will be prepared to do that.

I have shared information with you in previous communications about the restrictions that Massachusetts has placed on travelers from outside of what the state describes as “lower-risk states.” The governor has made clear that these restrictions will be strictly enforced, and for good reason. Just this week, Rhode Island was moved off the list of lower-risk states and now students coming from there are subject to the travel order.

To remind you, Wheaton students coming to campus from any state, jurisdiction or country other than the lower-risk states designated by the Department of Public Health must do the following prior to arrival on campus:

  • Provide the college with documentation of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result on a sample that has been taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Massachusetts; or
  • Quarantine off campus in Massachusetts or in a lower-risk state until you receive a negative test result; or
  • Quarantine off campus in Massachusetts or in a lower-risk state for 14 days.

At least one of the above measures must be met prior to a student from one of these regions arriving on campus for move-in. Given the significant number of students coming from outside of the lower-risk states, we will not be able to quarantine students on campus when they arrive. Thus, you must produce a test result or quarantine somewhere off-campus. We will provide you with more information about how to best meet these requirements in a separate email over the weekend. Please watch for it and read it carefully.

The rigorous testing program that we will have in place throughout the semester will help to ensure the health and safety of the entire community. Public health officials consistently point to the importance of such a plan in stopping the spread of the virus and most people on campus will be tested two times per week. We will work with the Norton Board of Health and the Contact Tracing Collaborative to identify close contacts of positive cases and promptly move students into quarantine or prohibit access to campus until cleared.

We have hosted a number of opportunities for community members to ask questions and find out more specifics on any topic related to what the fall semester will be like, and there will be another such opportunity this Tuesday evening, August 11, at 6:30 PM. These webinars have been very well-attended and most informative, so please be sure to register to attend this one to learn more about any topic on your mind.

If you will be on campus this fall, please make plans to bring only what you really need with you. Given the challenges and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, we strongly encourage you to pack very lightly. Please consider bringing only those items that you will be able to move into (or out of) your room by yourself. Residential Life has prepared a useful Fall 2020 Packing Guide that will be available on the Return to Campus Housing page this weekend. Please check it out and follow its guidance.

By now, we all understand that life on campus will be very different from what it has been in the past. But, hopefully, we also all understand that following these rules and protocols is about keeping our entire community safe. A group of student leaders has developed a Community Commitment to guide what we all do on campus to protect each other, and this will be shared with you soon. Committing to what will be expected is far more important to protecting our collective safety than any other policy or procedure we might have in place. Recent incidents in the news make it clear that a few simple measures, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, are critical to preventing the spread of the virus. Please come to campus ready to follow these guidelines and help us create a safe community for all.

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we make these important preparations for the fall semester. The support of all over the last few months—students near and far, faculty and staff, families and friends, alumni—has been so important to keeping this community strong, connected and moving forward. Thank you!

Have a great weekend.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College