Overview of Fall 2021 COVID Policies and Procedures

Dear Wheaton Community,

The start of the semester is here, and I know many of you are feeling a range of emotions attached to a more in-person community learning experience. Coming together has created meaningful moments, many of which have reinforced the importance of Wheaton in the lives of many. We plan to have many more opportunities to gather, in person and virtually, throughout the semester. 

The effort to be ready for a safe return to campus and a safe semester has been the work of many people over the course of the summer. While you have already received information on the many steps that have been taken, this is an important moment to review the protocols in place. This message is intended to be a reminder of the current measures that we will take, individually and collectively, for the health and safety of our entire community. I strongly encourage you to read this entire email, as it offers a useful summary of our current COVID-19 safety policies and procedures. You can find a version of this email on the Wheaton Blog and on our Return to Campus COVID-19 Website. Of course, you will also find reminders about our protocols on signage across campus.

Mitigating the Risk of Infection

Our approach to a successful, safe and healthy start to the fall semester begins with five fundamental pillars: required vaccinations, weekly PCR testing, indoor masking, symptom monitoring and limiting the size of indoor gatherings.

  • Required Vaccinations: The evidence is clear that the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. are effective against COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant, and they dramatically decrease the likelihood of serious health outcomes requiring hospitalization. Campus-wide vaccination is clearly the best response in the fight against the coronavirus. With our community-wide vaccination requirement in place, as of today 97% of our community has complied with the requirement. This will only improve once all students return to campus and update us and after we receive final updates from faculty and staff, whose deadline for reporting is August 31. Remember, only community members approved on a medical or religious basis may be exempted from the requirement.
  • Regular Testing: COVID-19 testing is a key part of our efforts to reduce the potential spread of the virus on campus. Weekly testing is required for all Wheaton community members who are on campus, and with quicker than ever results, community members will be contacted within 24 to 48 hours, if they need to take additional precautions. Contact tracing protocols and subsequent quarantine and isolation housing continue to be in place.
  • Masking: Masking is a critical line of defense for preventing the transmission of COVID-19, and indoor masking requirements are in effect for at least the early part of the semester. Masks are required outdoors for individuals who are not fully vaccinated and who cannot physically distance. Masks will also be required to be worn at large outdoor events where social distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Symptom Monitoring: We will continue to require all community members on campus to complete and submit a daily symptom check for new, worsening, or different symptoms prior to leaving their residence or before coming to campus each day. The symptom check can also be accessed via the CoVerified app and community members must complete the daily symptom check in order to receive a “cleared” status in the CoVerified app. 

These four pillars of our current strategy, combined with safety measures governing in-person and indoor gatherings (below), will form an important layer of protection for community members. In addition, our strategy will enable us to monitor conditions on campus and quickly make adjustments as needed. 

Beyond these measures, it is important to remember that some members of our community may choose to take additional precautions, for a wide variety of reasons. Let’s strive to respect the personal space and preferences of each other. It is always acceptable to wear a mask, even outdoors and in spaces where it is not required. And on a related note, if you do not feel well, always remember to stay home or in your private residential space and get the rest and care you need.

Events and Gatherings

In addition to vaccination, testing, masking and symptom monitoring, we will also limit the size of indoor gatherings. First and foremost, masks are required at all indoor events, regardless of vaccination status. We will continue to exercise caution when conducting or planning meetings and gatherings, and we will prioritize the use of spaces on campus for the in-person student experience. Most faculty and staff meetings will remain virtual.

At the beginning of the semester, we are holding larger events and gatherings outdoors and attendees should be encouraged to practice physical distancing when possible. Masks will be required to be worn at large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible.

  • Indoor events, meetings or gatherings cannot exceed 100 people.
    • Weber Theatre, Chapel Sanctuary, Haas Athletic Center, and Clark Recreation Center may exceed the 100-person maximum but will be limited to 50 percent of their official capacity.
  • Food service at events is permitted. 
  • Pre-registration and registration check-in for all events is recommended to maintain an accurate attendee list. Event hosts should maintain this list for at least three weeks following the event. 
  • A symptom check of all attendees prior to entering the gathering is recommended. This may be a sign, CoVerified app, or attestation prior to the event.

Drinking and Eating Amid COVID-19 Safety Protocols

Being required to wear a mask indoors raises questions about drinking and eating in dining spaces, classrooms and other areas on campus. It certainly will require careful attention by us all to ensure that we honor the safeguards that have been put in place. 

At this time, there should be no eating in classrooms. Exceptions will be made for students who have a documented medical condition where they would need to be provided the opportunity to eat in a classroom.

It is permissible to briefly remove your mask to take a quick sip of a drink, even if masking is required where you are. In the interests of public health, individuals should refrain from talking when drinking, and their mask should be replaced immediately. The preferred manner of drinking is to use a reusable, eco-friendly straw that does not require you to remove your mask. 

When eating in dining areas, individuals may remove masks only when actively eating and drinking. Unvaccinated individuals should ensure they take steps to plan and protect themselves while eating and drinking by remaining physically distanced from others. Anyone who is not actively eating or drinking should wear a mask.

Travel and Campus Visitors

Students are strongly encouraged to limit their travel off-campus, especially given the prevalence of the Delta variant in the communities surrounding the campus. Students who leave campus should take safety precautions to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus and are expected to follow all recommended protocols in regards to masking and physical distancing.

While travel (overnight or more than 100 miles away from campus) is permitted at this time, unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to delay travel. All unvaccinated students who engage in personal travel must test within one day of their return and again within 3-5 days of returning from travel. For at least 7 days from the date of return and until both negative test results are received, unvaccinated students must avoid unmasked close social activity, including social gatherings and dining with others.

Vaccinated employees are not subject to any travel restrictions at this time and should resume their normal testing cadence as soon as they return to campus. Unvaccinated employees returning from travel must be PCR tested within one day of their return from travel and again within 3-5 days of returning from travel and should stay home and self-quarantine for 7 days (or 10 days if not testing) before coming to campus.

More information on the college’s policy for college-sponsored travel can be found on the Return to Campus website.

Campus Visitors 

Visitors typically include vendors, contractors, family members or friends of a student or employee, prospective students and their families, alumni, and guest speakers. All visitors to campus and community members who invite them are expected to comply with the COVID-19 Visitor Policy and all college safety guidelines, including face coverings, symptom checks and physical distancing.

As of August 31, visitors may attend college-sponsored performances, programs, or athletic events that are explicitly open to the public. All visitors are required to follow campus policies during their visit and must wear an appropriate mask or face covering at all times if indoors.

Protecting Confidentiality

Due to student and employment privacy laws, we are not permitted to reveal an individual’s vaccination or COVID-19 testing status. As such, we need to treat COVID-related health information on a “need to know” basis, similar to how we manage accessibility support and accommodations.

Privacy laws prevent the college from sharing specific information about an individual who tests positive. If someone shares information with you about their COVID-19 testing status, please do not assume that you have permission to share that information more broadly, so keep it confidential.

Individuals who are unable to attend class or work due to being in isolation, quarantine, or because they are experiencing symptoms are responsible for informing their instructor and the Dean of Advising or supervisor of their planned absence. You do not need to reveal the details of the health issue you are experiencing. 

Resources for Additional Questions and Support

I know I have provided a great deal of information, but you may still have questions or need additional support as the year progresses. Please visit the Return to Campus COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date information.

I also encourage you to reach out to these respective offices with any protocol questions:

I thank you for your careful attention to the protocols and practices that are in place to safeguard the health of our community. The ways in which we care for one another’s health and well-being will reinforce our strength as a community. 

Best of luck with the first week of classes,

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College