Friday, March 20 Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Faculty, Staff and Students,

I hope this email finds you safe and healthy, wherever you are. It has certainly been an unprecedented week of transition and change for all, as each of us has had to make significant adjustments to our daily routines. Life at Wheaton is no different, but the way our community has rallied to meet these new challenges has truly been inspiring.

As federal, state and local guidance continues to evolve and some major cities begin to issue shelter-in-place orders, campus is certainly in a very different place than it has ever been before. We have seen the vast majority of students move out their belongings and we expect a few more to do so during the next few days. After Sunday, there will be about 80 students remaining on campus—all allowed to do so due to extenuating circumstances and travel restrictions.

The Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning, the Wallace Library, Media Services, Information Technology Services and many other college offices have been hard at work preparing faculty and staff for our move to remote learning, which begins on Monday, March 23. Each department on campus is supporting students in a new world of remote operations, requiring significant adjustments to business as usual. As these changes evolve and continue, look for further communication on how you can best work with these offices. We continue to be here for you, albeit in a new way.

The vast majority of our staff members are working remotely, and those essential personnel still working on campus are working under strict rules that require social distancing. After today, most campus buildings will be closed, and the only dining services available for on-campus residents are grab-and-go meals. We have also created a food pantry on campus (in the Chapel Base) to provide additional food options for students on campus. Every single decision and change made has been to keep our community safe and to limit the spread of infection.

In Massachusetts, there are currently 328 cases, with the biggest increase of positive test results in the state occurring yesterday, March 19. That number will surely continue to rise. More than 3,000 individuals have been tested. The good news is that nearly 900 of those individuals are no longer in quarantine. However, health officials estimate that there will be a minimum of 3,500 tests conducted each day moving forward and that, as a result, we will see a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases.

In the interest of transparency, I share with you that this improved access to testing has resulted in testing for a few members of the Wheaton community. While we have not yet been informed of any test results that confirm the presence of the virus, we are prepared for when that happens. We will continue to communicate with you as things evolve.

We will be following the directives of our state public health officials as well as our own institutional obligations to protect the medical privacy of members of our community as they are tested. However, anyone who needs to know because they may have been in close contact with someone who tests positive will be contacted. The Department of Public Health will either work directly with the person or the college to provide a list of individuals with whom the person was in recent contact, and the public health officials will determine who will be contacted.

We all should recognize that if we have been interacting with friends, colleagues and the general public during the past couple of weeks, we may have been exposed to the virus and possibly, unknowingly and unintentionally, exposed others. This requires us all to be vigilant in employing all reasonable means to halt the spread of the virus, including the suggested protocols of washing our hands and following social distancing guidelines. If you or anyone you know experiences symptoms that are consistent with being infected by COVID-19, call medical professionals for guidance on whether testing is appropriate.

Meanwhile, all of us on campus are working diligently to build virtual experiences and online programming to keep us all connected through this unprecedented time. Look for regular communication from me at least twice a week (for now, updates on Tuesdays and Fridays), as well as from me and other offices on campus as needed to keep you informed of important and time-sensitive matters.

I sincerely thank each and every one of you for managing this unprecedented change with grace, resiliency and creativity. It is eerily quiet on campus but that also assures me that everyone is doing the right thing by following the guidelines for maintaining social distance. I miss you all and I wish you and your families much safety and health.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College