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COVID-19 Update: Planning for the Fall

June 17, 2020

Dear members of our Saint Louis University community,  

This lengthy email covers a number of items in anticipation of the start of fall semester on August 17. Among the topics reviewed include: 

With two months until the fall term begins, I want to share more about the work we are doing to prepare for our return to the classroom. But first, I want to express my appreciation for your efforts. 

I cannot overstate my gratitude, and the gratitude of many others here at SLU, to those employees who continue to work on campus every day, keeping it clean, secure, accessible and beautiful. I also want to thank our healthcare providers. Our celebration of your dedication did not stop when the slow reopening of our city began. We do not take your tireless care, empathy and professionalism for granted. You are extraordinary practitioners. 

Finally, I want to thank all of you who continue to work and learn from home. Between spouses, partners, parents, rambunctious children, bothersome siblings and energetic pets – many of whom I have encountered on my own Zoom calls with our students, faculty and staff – I want to acknowledge you and the isolation blues that have affected so many of us. Continuing to show up virtually, no matter how difficult, is making a difference. Thank you. 

What We Know & What We Are Working to Learn 

Clearly there is a lot we do not yet know about the fall. We do not know if the community spread in St. Louis will change enough to allow for relaxed social distancing guidelines. Nor do we know if a potential rebound of the virus will prevent us from seeing the semester through. 

But there is also a lot we do know, including just how much you –– our students, staff, and faculty –– want to get back on campus. No one wants that more than I do. 

The Office of the Provost sent a message to our faculty earlier this week with details about planning for fall classes. I want to echo some of that information so our students, parents and staff are aware of it. 

Know that we do not have all of the answers you seek, but we are hard at work to get there. With two months until the start of classes, every working day is critical. 

Remote Working

If you have been working remotely, please continue to do so unless your supervisor has instructed otherwise. As I have noted previously, we are permitting non-essential employees to return to campus very slowly and methodically. Your continued patience and cooperation are appreciated. Deans and vice presidents understand the criteria guiding our return-to-work decisions through mid-July: urgent, strategic or mission-critical work that cannot be done remotely. 

For example, a small number of Pius Library staff and student workers are launching a contactless, curbside library pick-up service to help faculty prepare their courses for fall. Researchers, in a limited number of buildings, have resumed research lab activity under the guidance approved operating plans. Chemistry and physics lab instructors are preparing their summer lab courses. The School of Medicine is welcoming new interns, residents and fellows. Some staff in the Simon Recreation Center returned for a half-day CPR training class. 

In each of these circumstances, the active use of public health protocols is paramount. The Facilities Services Division is providing face masks and cleaning supplies. Everyone must wear a mask and practice 6 feet of social distancing. Symptoms must be checked at the start of each day or activity. 

Return to the Classroom 

I have heard from many students who are grateful to learn that we intend to have in-person classes when we begin the fall term on August 17. But I have also heard from some students with concerns that they, or someone they live with are at-risk. I have also heard from some who are not sure whether they will be able to leave their home country to return to campus for classes. We will make every effort to accommodate these needs. As soon as we have more information, we will share it. 

Faculty members are developing options for in-person and remote delivery which, in many cases, will be happening simultaneously. Similarly, we have some faculty members who will not be able to teach in the classroom this fall because they or someone with whom they live is at-risk. The Provost, deans and department chairs are assessing those requests for remote teaching. As of now, we anticipate that fewer than 25 percent of faculty will be teaching solely online. 

Students, be aware that this could mean that classes in which you are currently enrolled could change to online. We ask for your continued patience as we work to meet the needs of these at-risk instructors. 

Classroom Logistics 

The 6-feet of social distancing mandate will require the majority of classes to relocate to larger spaces than in past semesters. Those rooms are likely to be in different buildings. Venues typically used for events, such as the Wool Ballrooms in the Busch Student Center and the Center for Global Citizenship will become classroom space for courses with large numbers of students. 

We anticipate the University Registrar will be able to place about 85 percent of all course sections into a classroom space at the currently-scheduled day and time. For the remaining 15 percent of courses, the day and time of those classes will change. 

Our course scheduling effort is an enormously complex task that is not yet completed. We are working as quickly and efficiently as we can, while trying to minimize disrupting large numbers of students and faculty. Students should continue to monitor their accounts for updates. If you have concerns about your course schedule after these decisions are made, please contact your advisor. 

Public Health Safeguards 

Local, state and federal guidelines will likely change between now and the start of the term. But we are prepared to follow them. We may decide to go above these guidelines, depending on what our own public health experts recommend. To reiterate, we are requiring face masks and 6-feet of social distancing indoors and out, with a few exceptions. 

Maintenance staff are mounting more than 800 touchless hand sanitizer stations in buildings around campus. Custodial staff are filling spray bottles with disinfecting solution and will make them available to staff and faculty.  This will help increase the frequency that high-touch surfaces are cleaned each day, beyond the regular efforts of our custodians. 

The manner in which we will provide face masks, disinfecting spray bottles and small hand sanitizer bottles has not yet been determined. Distribution logistics will be finalized in the coming weeks. At this point, with our emphasis on sustaining our current work-from-home practices, these safeguards are only needed by the limited number of employees who have been cleared to return to work. 

Where possible, we are installing devices to exit bathrooms without touching the doors.  We are installing plexiglass barriers in high-traffic areas in order to separate people when 6-feet of physical distance is difficult to maintain. Water fountain use across campus is now limited to bottle refills only. 

We continue to assess need and implementation of public health safeguards in classrooms. When we have more specific information about what you can expect, we will share it with you. 

Housing 

Like many universities, we are exploring different scenarios for how to safely house our students. We are consulting with our local health departments, as well as SLU’s own public health and infectious disease experts. 

One reason we have not yet finalized decisions about housing is that we continue to learn more each week, and we want to be sure we are balancing public health precautions with our students’ desire to live together in community. 

Students who have already received housing assignments should know that some of those assignments may change, depending on the residence hall we choose to set aside to isolate any students who may become infected by COVID-19, just as we did during spring semester. Incoming students typically do not receive their housing assignments until early July. We are on track to meet that timeline. 

As Housing and Residence Life (HRL) works through different housing scenarios, they are doing their best to honor students’ original requests about types of spaces and roommates. At the same time, we recognize that some students will prefer to live at home this fall. The Student Development team will soon send a form that you can use to request an exception from your housing contract to live at home. 

We expect Housing and Residential Life (HLR) to release final housing assignments and move-in times to students by July 15. In order to allow for social distancing, we are planning to expand new student move-in from one day to three. At this time, we expect: 

Your specific housing assignment will dictate your specific move-in date. We know this is complicated for those families who are traveling a long distance to move their Billikens to campus. The HRL team will consider move-in scheduling changes based on extraordinary circumstances. 

We recognize that the absence of additional detailed information about housing at this time may be frustrating for some. We may have to make unpopular decisions, but we are prioritizing safety as we consider the options. Know that whatever we do, protecting and promoting student health is a top priority. 

Next Steps & Expectations 

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has shared feedback on the different options for how we might end the fall term. We are reviewing that feedback and will have more information for you soon. 

Your continued patience is deeply appreciated. I look forward to sharing more with you in the days ahead. 

May God bless you and Saint Louis University.

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
President

Previous Updates to the SLU Community