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COVID-19 Faculty and Staff Update: Preparing for the Fall

July 31, 2020

Dear SLU faculty and staff,  

Thank you for the tireless work you continue to do to prepare for the fall. This effort matters in the lives of our students, our patients, and our community. I am grateful for the dedication you continue to show. 

Unlike past years, when decisions would have been firmed up long ago, colleges and universities across the country are continually reassessing and updating their plans for the fall semester. Some are offering a hybrid model like ours, while others are planning for all instruction to be online. Some have delayed their start date. Others, like us, have advanced it. Most who plan to offer face-to-face instruction have de-densified their campus, as we have, by creating online options. 

Our primary concerns remain the well-being of the members of our community, the education of our students, the health of our patients, and the advancement of knowledge. As we consider these priorities, we also accept that the virus is setting the terms for how we conduct the fall semester. Our leadership team continues to evaluate the latest data, seek continued guidance from internal and external experts, and weigh the many possibilities before us. Like you, we are paying close attention to the number of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis region, especially the increase among people under 30. 

Some COVID-19 numbers are encouraging. Hospitalizations are leveling off and declining. ICU admissions are down, as are the number of patients on ventilators. But the successive days of record- or near-record-numbers of positive cases have prompted local authorities to reinstitute certain restrictions. 

In the coming days, I will continue to meet with public health and infectious disease experts both within SLU and across St. Louis. The leadership team and I will use the latest public health information to better understand how to best bring you, our faculty and staff, as well as our students, back to the classrooms, labs, studios, offices and residence halls.   

Moving Forward

We continue to plan for an Aug. 17 start to the semester. We all realize that this fall will not be business as usual. Most of us will continue to work partly, or mostly, from home. Some of us will remain entirely at home. 

Soon, we will release our Return to Campus Guidance for use by managers, chairs, faculty and staff. This guide identifies a calibrated approach to bringing employees back to SLU. We expect most to stagger and limit their hours on campus. How many hours and on which days one is on campus depends on the nature of one’s work and a discussion with one’s supervisor. 

Our goal is to keep the number of academic and operational employees who are on campus to a minimum, while accounting for faculty who are delivering face-to-face instruction and those who are required to be on-campus for additional support. 

Because of the nature of their work, most of our SLUCare employees will have to be on-campus, or in a hospital at which we practice, most, or all of the time. Our goal for such employees is to provide a work environment that minimizes the risk of contracting the virus. The nature of the precautions in that environment will vary depending upon the area in which a person works.  

Managers and chairs are encouraged to work together with faculty and staff to find creative, workable solutions for those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at-risk, over 65-years-old, live with an at-risk individual, or who have childcare needs due to COVID-19-related school closures. 

Flexibility is key to managing our way through this fall. Again, I remind you that supervisors and chairs should follow the public health protocols we have shared previously and are outlined in the forthcoming Return to Campus Guidance. 

What's Next 

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, from 2:30-3:30 p.m., we will begin weekly town hall meetings via a Zoom webinar. At that time, we will share more about our plans and preparations for the fall semester with lower-density residence halls, learning from both face-to-face and online instruction. We will also answer your questions. 

You can register for the event here, and can submit questions here. We will address the questions that are posed by the greatest number of respondents. 

This afternoon, I will include you in a message to our students. In that message, I preview a forthcoming “Campus Commitment,” which asks all of us to affirm our individual commitment to protecting the public health of our community, including wearing a mask, adhering to social distance requirements, and following other public health practices that are required of us to be at work and in community with one another. These practices are consistent with the City’s health orders and guidelines. All students, faculty and staff are required to sign this commitment before the start of the semester. 

We will get through these difficult times because of what we stand for and who we are. I know you and that of which you are capable. Despite the limitations under which we must now operate, I am confident that our students and patients will continue to be well served. 

Sincerely, 

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
President