July 24 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

I hope that this warm summer weather has provided you with opportunities to enjoy some energizing outdoor time. For me, I have been here on campus every day since we sent students home in March and these beautiful days really make me miss the sight of students enjoying the Dimple and all of the beautiful outdoor space Wheaton has to offer. I’m really looking forward to our return to campus, even though I know that we all realize campus life will be different because of the guidance, protocols and restrictions that will be in place to provide a safe environment for all of us.

We continue to develop novel ways to keep our community connected and working together on important issues. For example, just yesterday Professors Hilary Gaudet ‘09 and Gabriela Torres led the first discussion in our Public Health and Social Justice series. Their well-attended webinar, titled “An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Health Disparities,” highlighted why diseases are a heavier burden on marginalized communities and how we can make a difference in enacting change. If you have not registered for the ongoing series available to anyone in the Wheaton community, be sure to do so at the link above. The weekly sessions will continue to educate and move us all to action to improve public health disparities.

As we have all seen and experienced by now, evolving guidance has impacted ongoing planning for all industries and organizations throughout the pandemic. This is no different for Wheaton even as we work to finalize logistics for the upcoming semester’s return to campus plans. For example, just today Massachusetts released a new travel order that takes effect on August 1. We will have more specifics to share with students early next week on how this will affect our move-in process. In a nutshell, the state is taking strong measures to ensure that travelers coming to Massachusetts from outside the Northeast do not cause a resurgence of the virus. Testing will play a big part in satisfying the state order and we are fortunate that testing has been a key part of our strategy from the very beginning. Please give us the weekend to prepare comprehensive guidance for you based on how this new travel order and other evolving guidance fit into our existing plans.

To help answer any of your questions on returning to campus, Dean of Students Zack Irish and Associate Dean of Campus Life Ed Burnett will be hosting a Return to Campus Q&A Webinar next Wednesday, July 29 at 5 p.m. eastern time. Please pre-register for this upcoming Zoom webinar. We’ll have more information to share about the changing guidance as well as other expected processes for move-in and the return to campus.

In the meantime, as I did last week let me provide you with some more details on some of the plans we are making and the changes our community will experience.

COVID-19 Testing Procedures
One of the reasons that Massachusetts has been able to slow the spread of the virus is because of aggressive testing. We are fortunate to be part of a consortium of colleges and universities that has privately contracted for testing with one of the best biomedical facilities in the world, located right here in Massachusetts. The college’s testing plan will be done in partnership with the Broad Institute and includes onboarding testing, symptomatic testing and ongoing and regular testing for everyone on campus. It is important to detect infections before there has been an opportunity for transmission since a large percentage of transmission occurs from people who do not know they are infected. The testing procedure will require students and employees to have their lower anterior nasal cavities swabbed at our on-campus testing site. This test is relatively non-invasive and can even be self-administered. The testing site will be staffed by medical professionals who will also provide other medical support as needed. A contracted courier service will deliver the tests to the Broad lab and we expect to have the results in 24-36 hours. The contract nature of our relationship makes this much more predictable than the slow turnaround times currently being cited in the press. Individuals who test positive will be contacted by a medical professional with instructions on next steps. Wheaton will also have an on-site nurse seven days a week to help with the support of students who receive positive test results, are symptomatic or had close contact with a confirmed positive case and need to be moved into quarantine or isolation housing.

Living Off-Campus and Commuting to and from Campus
Everyone on campus or coming to campus on a regular basis will be required to be a part of our testing protocols since this is critical to protecting the entire community. Thus, commuting students will still undergo testing and the frequency will depend on how often they are coming to campus. Those not living on campus will need to adhere to all campus protocols and guidelines as they travel on public transportation, interact with those at home, with employers and with co-workers at their jobs and internships. It will be of the utmost importance for the entire community that we all follow our prescribed protocols and guidelines, which will be based on the very best guidance available at the time. This will include adhering to the soon-to-be-released community compact currently under development by a group of student leaders.

Additionally, all on-campus residents are strongly encouraged to minimize travel off campus. Travel should be limited to essential needs such as attending medical appointments or work. It is expected that all residents abide by current college policy regarding off-campus or out-of-state travel and the subsequent requirements for self-isolation. This is an area of public health guidance that is ever-evolving and we will all need to be ready to adapt and to adjust.

On-Campus and Student Club Events
With classes being the sole exception, there will be no on-campus, in-person events until at least September 8. Throughout the semester, student clubs and organizations will be encouraged to conduct meetings virtually, and will only be permitted to meet in person and provide in-person programming later in the semester when all social distancing protocols and guidance at that time can be accommodated. This step to cancel in-person events for the first two weeks of the semester will help limit any potential exposure or spread of the virus early in our time together. Our goal is to hold some smaller-scale, in-person programming as the semester progresses. This event restriction also includes orientation and welcome weekend. More details on virtual orientation and related activities will be emailed soon from the Orientation Committee at [email protected].

We look forward to sharing more specifics on the arrival process and move-in times next week as well as answering any outstanding questions you may have on the webinar. Remaining questions you may have can be submitted to [email protected] in preparation to be covered at the webinar on Wednesday evening.

Thank you for your continued flexibility, patience and understanding as we continue to adapt our plans to the evolving state and local public health guidance.

Wishing you a safe and enjoyable weekend,

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College