July 31 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

I’m having a hard time believing that tomorrow is August 1, as this summer has passed so quickly. Yet, I also think about how much we have accomplished here at Wheaton in recent weeks to prepare for the fall semester. And there certainly has been and continues to be change all around us. Time seems to be moving both quickly and slowly, if that’s even possible.

This update will focus primarily on important information for students who will be returning to campus in a few short weeks, but I’m sure others will also be interested in knowing more about some of the steps we are taking to create a safe environment on campus.

Thank you to the more than 300 community members who attended the Return to Campus Q&A Webinar this week hosted by Dean Zack Irish and Associate Dean Ed Burnett. They shared a variety of updates for our safe return to campus this fall and our behind-the-scenes panelists answered more than 150 individual questions from attendees. For those of you who were unable to make the session, you can watch a recording of the webinar on YouTube.

Students have also started to receive information on the pre-arrival and move-in process from the Office of Residence Life. As shared on the webinar, both the communication of arrival sign-up times and the move-in itself will be staggered, but all students wishing to live on campus will be emailed in regards to their move-in process by next Wednesday, August 5. Our campus departments continue to provide a variety of updates via email so students should continue to check their Wheaton email for specific details. I know it is a lot of information coming at you, but I urge you to monitor it closely. We’ll post those updates relevant for the entire community to the Return to Campus website and please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our departments listed on the site. Thank you for your continued patience as we refine logistics based on the ever-evolving state and public health guidance.

As I mentioned in my last update, Massachusetts has issued a new travel order that applies to all individuals entering Massachusetts, including residents returning from out of the region, that takes effect tomorrow, August 1. Dean Irish shared the impact of this guidance with all students earlier this week but I wanted to reinforce his message. In order to comply with the state’s new travel order, 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 was taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Massachusetts; or
  • Quarantine off campus in Massachusetts or a lower risk-state until you receive a negative test result; or
  • Quarantine off campus in Massachusetts or 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. Now that Massachusetts has opened up the opportunity to take a test prior to travel, we highly encourage students from high-risk states to take a test prior to departing your area. This state order is no longer just an advisory and the state has declared that failure to comply with the travel order may result in a $500 fine per day.

Among all this evolving guidance and uncertainty, one thing remains certain: we all must do our part for a safe return to campus for our entire community. One precautionary principle to assist in a safe return is self-isolation. Before you come to campus, this would include you staying in your place of residence for 14 days prior to arrival, limiting contact with those outside of your residence, and minimizing any travel from home except for essentials such as grocery store and doctor visits. Staying away from attending large gatherings or other recent social hot spots (restaurants, bars, parties, gyms, etc.) is highly encouraged. Most recent case spikes and clusters across the nation and the world are related to large groups of people getting together and not following social distancing and mask protocols. Taking these simple steps to avoid close contact with others outside your family group can limit exposure to COVID-19 for all of our community.

As we have shared throughout the pandemic, our decisions have been made with the community’s safety as our priority and our protocols are directed by current public health and state guidance. The guidance is always evolving and we are in daily contact with health officials and other area colleges. We all must be flexible and willing to adapt. We are keeping all possibilities in mind, including moving to remote operations if a significant resurgence occurs in Massachusetts. Additionally, we are working with other Massachusetts colleges to develop a dashboard of metrics that we will consistently measure, evaluate and share. Our advisory group of public health professionals and medical partners will be guiding us throughout as we focus every day on maintaining a safe environment on campus.

I hope the arrival of August comes to you with safety, health and also excitement as we get closer to the start of the new semester.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College