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Regaining Normalcy on Our St. Louis Campuses

April 10, 2021

Dear University community members:

As we enjoy the beautiful spring weather, University teams are developing plans to return to the more extensive human connection that makes an on-campus Saint Louis University experience a life-changing one. 

We have already implemented plans for in-person pre-commencement ceremonies and loosened some other restrictions on campus.

In light of the broad vaccine availability that promises to only get better, we have begun planning for as normal a fall semester as possible, where we are back to operating largely face-to-face. We envision full classrooms and labs, and in-person study groups, advising, guest lectures, events, retreats, concerts and other typical campus social gatherings.

In order to achieve this, near-universal vaccination adoption among our campus community members is critical. Our goal remains to keep the campus as safe as possible. At this point that means achieving what public health professionals call “herd immunity” at SLU.

Widespread vaccine adoption on our St. Louis campuses will position us to implement updated CDC and St. Louis City Health Department guidance, anticipated to come later this summer. We expect such guidance to reduce or eliminate the public safeguards for vaccinated people — and, possibly, all of campus. 

We know this news will raise a lot of questions for members of our community. Faculty may want to start making changes to schedules and course modalities right away. Please don’t start making changes yet. I ask for your patience with us as we formulate and implement our plans. 

As the Provost announced earlier this semester, we have a working group of faculty, students, and staff developing recommendations for the kinds of changes that will get us as close to normal as possible next fall. And other working groups are being established to ensure we’re making the changes needed for in-person events and activities, to explore ways to increase vaccine uptake, and more.

Just as we did last spring and summer as we prepared to return to campus, we will continue to consult with students, staff and faculty every step of the way. 

As with everything we have faced with this pandemic, the road ahead is likely to be bumpy, and getting back to normal will take some time. For example, course modalities listed in the fall 2021 schedule of classes look a lot like fall 2020, but we expect that to change as we plan for a more normal fall. When will we know which course modalities will change? What does this all mean for staff returning to work on campus? What does it mean for faculty who need to continue teaching online? What does it mean for students who are unable to get back to St. Louis next fall? These are all essential questions on which we are working. Again, I am asking for your patience as we develop guidance on the myriad of decisions that must be considered and resolved. 

While we are less than six weeks away from commencement, we continue to see news stories of other campuses sheltering in place, suspending in-person classes, or moving to all online learning — all due to spikes in disease transmission among students. 

Yet, here in St. Louis, our campus rates in March and April have been very low. This is due to your vigilance and willingness to abide by our public health safeguards, even after you have been vaccinated. We must remain vigilant. Face masks up. Stay 6 feet apart. Check and report your symptoms using #CampusClear. 

As of today, we have provided first doses of the two-shot Moderna vaccine to nearly 5,300 people, including loved ones and members of nearby faith-based organizations. Starting Tuesday, the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available.

We recognize that some Black and Brown members of our community are understandably hesitant about getting a vaccine due to historical inequities and injustices. These webinars, produced by the School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and presented in both English and Spanish, may help address some of those apprehensions. 

Remember: the more of us who are vaccinated, the more successful we will be at achieving our plan to get back to normal. Through this return to face-to-face operating across the campus, our community will reap a host of benefits. We need each and every one of you to do your part. If you still need to be vaccinated, or have loved ones who need to be, please schedule your vaccination.

Let each of us remain committed to one another’s health and safety as we look forward to the type of fall semester we all want — and need.

With gratitude,

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.