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Students return to new reality

As Davis & Elkins College soon welcomes students back to campus for the Fall 2020 semester, be assured that we are doing everything in our power to protect the entire D&E community. This institution has worked tirelessly since March to prepare for the return of students, faculty, and staff, and we are ready to implement new measures for a safe and healthy campus. By keeping the campus community safe, this mitigates risk for the greater Elkins community.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has pushed the world to plan better, be more adaptive and flexible, and think of better ways to do what we do — while working together to help flatten the COVID-19 curve. With some students arriving on our collegiate grounds as early as this week, we have prepared them all summer by working through an aggressive communications pipeline to set expectations and encourage students to follow the rules when they return to D&E. Health and wellness is a shared responsibility, with accountability and sensible actions serving as key components to everyone’s safety.

Our new measures include testing procedures for all residential and commuter students upon their arrival to campus; testing for students following restricted travel from campus; rigorous symptom monitoring; creation of a stringent sequence of processes if a student shows symptoms of infection; a comprehensive series of steps in the event of positive cases; and closure of campus to any and all unofficial visitors. The push to be better, as you might expect, is a tall order, but one that simply reinforces our number one priority: the safety and health of the D&E community.

Wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, significantly altering their living and dining habits, and having primary awareness of their health and the impact of their health on others are not what many students had in mind when they pictured their collegiate experience. However, for students returning to the D&E campus this fall, these behaviors must be normalized to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The Davis & Elkins Guide for Return to Campus was officially released on July 1, reflecting the work of the Davis & Elkins College Re-opening Task Force and its 10 subcommittees. The guidelines for the return to campus following a turbulent spring semester is the result of the task force’s careful planning and comprehensive effort to ensure that all aspects of campus life are included and considered as a plan was devised for the re-opening of this institution. Additionally, the task force was supported by the Pandemic Response Task Force formed within the Davis & Elkins College Board of Trustees.

These guidelines, which are the result of months-long work, cover all facets of our college community. Important partners and resources were also incorporated into the guide, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR), and the Randolph-Elkins Health Department.

Our unwavering communication with students has been instrumental, as weekly student updates that began in March continued throughout the summer. Updates included important, informative planning for students and their families, ranging from steps such as self-isolating for seven days prior to their return to campus to a list of medical supplies they should bring with them (including personal protective equipment).

Innovative thinking is also represented through such measures as early arrival opportunities for international students and domestic students who live a significant distance from campus and/or from confirmed COVID-19 hotspots, and a phased move-in process for all residential students. Attending class, dining, and residing on campus will all reflect the “new normal,” including innovative and creative course delivery options that have been prepared starting this semester.

Our preparation has also changed the way in which our facilities will operate, including disinfection, employee work schedules, classroom and office restrictions, dining procedures, signage, and floor decals, to name a few.

We are all responsible for implementing this plan. Only through a cooperative effort can we establish and maintain the safety and health of our campus. D&E’s primary goal in our response to COVID-19 is the health of our community as we continue this institution’s mission of high standards of education, and to prepare and inspire students for success and thoughtful engagement in the world.

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