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Fall 2020 Opening of Campus

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Message from the President

Dear Berry students and families:

I am writing with a mid-summer update regarding the opening of school for the fall 2020 semester. Over and over, we have heard from students how eager you are to return to campus and immerse yourselves in the wide array of opportunities that Berry offers. At the same time, we have all learned that COVID-19 is unpredictable and that we are living in a time of extended uncertainty.

That uncertainty has been apparent this last week as the number of new confirmed cases in Georgia and other southern states has showed consecutive days of significant increases. It is frustrating not to know what the situation will look like six weeks from now when the fall semester begins, much less what it might be in mid-October. That means decisions we make today are necessarily contingent.  We will adapt and pivot as needed in coming weeks. Vigilance coupled with ongoing flexibility is surely a realistic response to ongoing uncertainty.

As I have indicated in previous messages, our planning is rooted in three priorities:  

  • The health and safety of our students and employees
  • The quality of our academic and educational programs
  • The integrity of our residential campus experience

In the sections below, we provide a broad outline of what we believe the fall will look like. We will hold Town Hall meetings in mid-July to provide an update and answer your questions. We have also created a webpage to serve as your central source for information regarding fall re-opening: www.berry.edu/fallopening. 

We will post updated FAQs periodically and encourage you to review these prior to the Town Hall meetings. Town Halls for July are scheduled as follows: 

  • For returning students: July 15, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m., July 16, 5-6 p.m.
  • For parents of returning students: July 15, noon-1 p.m., 5-6 p.m.
  • For new students and parents: July 16 noon-1 p.m., 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Login information will be sent by July 8th. In the event that you are unable to participate, all sessions will be recorded and available on the fall reopening webpage.

Our Path Forward:  Managing the Risk

Monitoring COVID-19 Indicators and Evaluating the Risk

Working with public health and medical leaders, we continually monitor the level of local risk (in Floyd County) as defined by:

  • The number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases
  • The percentage of COVID-19 (PCR) tests that are positive
  • The number of patients hospitalized from the illness

We are attentive both to current levels of activity as well as sustained changes in activity (across 7 to 14-days).

We are also acutely focused on any potential cases on campus. Last March, one visitor to campus tested positive for COVID-19, and in June one campus employee was confirmed positive. That employee isolated at home, and another employee quarantined at home as a precaution. In both the March and June cases, we implemented rigorous cleaning protocols immediately. Neither case resulted in any spread on campus. 

Managing Access to Campus

Berry is fortunate to be able to limit access to campus on short notice. Our front gate and welcome center serve as a physical boundary to campus as needed.

  • From March into May, campus was closed to the public and to students, except the few who were approved to live or work on campus during that period. 
  • In June and July, we are screening all students, employees and other visitors entering campus during the day for fever and other symptoms before admitting them.
  • In June and July, we have limited general public access to the campus to outdoor recreational use only. Beginning in August, the campus will again be closed to the public.

Managing the Return of Residential Students

The general re-opening of campus for the fall semester is necessarily a period of increased risk.  Students will be arriving from many locations and a variety of summer contexts. 

We have had some experience with re-entry already. Currently we have more than 200 Berry students on campus, taking classes and engaging in student work. We screened all of these students as they returned to campus. They have been able to participate in a variety of campus experiences. Another 100 students from other colleges are working on the Mountain Campus this summer, supporting WinShape’s virtual camping program. There have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases among any of students on campus. However, by the very nature of this pandemic, we anticipate that there will be sporadic cases on campus at some point, and we are prepared to respond immediately and appropriately to contain such cases.

To minimize large crowds in the residence halls, the fall move-in process will be staged over several days, comparable to the moving out process we used in May. Additional details and sign-up opportunities will be provided in July by the Office of Residence Life.

As students prepare to return for the fall:

  • All students (and accompanying visitors) will need to complete screening measures before and upon arrival to campus. 
  • Depending on the level of risk in your home area in early August, we may also require you to take a COVID-19 (PCR) test before you return to campus. We will provide more details in this regard in coming weeks. 
  • Please restrict your social access for two weeks prior to your return. Please limit your interaction with people outside your immediate family. That will increase the likelihood of a healthy community in the first weeks of school.
  • Bring a couple of face coverings -- we’ll have some available on campus, including fabric masks available at the campus store, but you’ll likely want to have your own.
  • Include disinfectant spray or wipes as part of your cleaning supplies.

Managing the Transition Period

There will be a transition or re-entry period during which we will implement stricter and more widespread safety measures until we have confidence in the health of the campus community overall. There is no set time for when the transition period will end; it will depend on an ongoing evaluation of risk in the local community and on campus.

  • Berry is evaluating several web-based applications that will allow students to submit screening information during this transition period and during periods of increased risk. This information will aid campus health professionals in monitoring the overall health of the Berry community.
  • During this transition period, campus policies will be established regarding social distancing, especially for indoor areas with increased density. Groups and event sizes will be limited for the time being. 
  • Face coverings or face shields will be required in classrooms, academic buildings and other public areas. 
  • Students are encouraged to wash their hands frequently according to CDC protocols; this remains one of the best means to reduce spread of the virus.

Managing Travel

Once the health of the campus community has stabilized, it is advantageous to limit the amount of travel to other areas. For that reason, and consistent with most other colleges, we have developed a calendar that encourages students to stay on campus for the fall term.

  • Classes will begin one week early, on Monday, August 17.
  • The last day of on-campus classes will be Friday, November 20.
    Monday, November 23, and Tuesday, November 24, are designated as Reading Days.
  • Final exams will be held remotely from Monday, November 30 to Friday, December 4. The final exam schedule is posted on VikingWeb on the Registrar’s page.
  • Classes will be held on Labor Day, Monday, September 7.
  • There will be a one-day fall holiday on Wednesday, October 7. Classes will be held on October 19-20.

This calendar allows us to meet the normal number of class days, without the need to return after Thanksgiving. 

During the semester, we encourage students to remain on campus and in the area local to campus. For students wishing to travel home or elsewhere, there may be some requirements including an approved check-out and re-entry process.

Managing Campus Facilities

Research to date suggests that transmission of the virus is more likely to occur in indoor areas, especially in areas of increased density and proximity. 

  • We have instituted rigorous cleaning procedures in all buildings in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations.
  • We are installing hospital grade HVAC filters in all of our buildings (academic and residential).
  • We are investing significantly in new classroom technologies that will enable us to provide classes in person and remotely, as needed.

Managing Potential Cases

Berry is fortunate to be located in a town with excellent medical services. Two hospitals are located within 3 miles of the college, and the Northwest Georgia regional public health offices are within a mile as well.   

  • We are arranging with local health partners to provide access to rapid (24-hour) PCR testing for COVID-19.  
  • Berry is coordinating with the regional public health office to employ a team of Berry students as contact tracers. A number of students took a regular Berry College epidemiology course this summer that included a contact tracing module (and certification) from Johns Hopkins University.
  • The college has set aside a number of rooms for isolation or quarantine as needed.

Ensuring Quality of Programs

Berry faculty remain committed to the value of face-to-face interaction, both for regular classroom instruction as well as the kinds of mentoring, supervision and firsthand experiences for which the college is known. These interactions and experiences are equally true in our LifeWorks program and for our coaches and athletic teams. Personal relationships are central to Berry’s education of the head, heart and hands. 

A faculty-led committee has studied a number of approaches for ensuring a productive teaching and learning experience that emphasizes faculty-student relationships, even on occasions when a faculty member or student(s) must maintain physical distance. The emphasis has been on flexibility enhanced by technology. We anticipate that some faculty members will have to teach remotely, at least in part, for health-related reasons. The same may well be true for some students along the way. 

We recognize also that the state and national context in which we operate may dictate changes that require us to pivot. Still, to the extent that we have a choice, we will strive to operate as normally as possible and in the best interest of our students and their success.

We look forward to the return of our students and the start of the fall adventure in learning.

Steve Briggs

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