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COVID-19 Update: Fall 2020 Planning

May 12, 2020

Dear members of our Saint Louis University community, 

I want to begin by reiterating my gratitude for your continued patience as we explore what lies ahead amidst so much uncertainty. 

The fall semester is top of mind for many of us right now. Let me start by saying that we intend to be back on campus for the fall semester, but it likely will look and feel different. Still, our collective goal is to make the fall term an exceptional experience for all our students, no matter the hand that COVID-19 deals us. 

Some public health safeguards are likely to remain 

St. Louis City officials have published their plans to ease the City’s “stay-at-home” order beginning May 18. The City’s guidance covers “Phase I of Reopening.” The document will provide direction to University leaders as we assess how we will return to work on campus, over what time period, and who is included.  

The development of unit, division and school reopening plans will take some time. If you have been working from home, please continue to do so until you hear otherwise from your supervisor. To be clear, we will reopen carefully and gradually. We will adhere to public health protocols. Again, if you have been working from home, please do not return to your SLU office on May 18, unless your supervisor has communicated with you about this possibility. 

The City’s Phase I guidance requires daily health screenings for on-campus personnel. The 6-feet social distancing mandate remains. Face coverings must be worn. We are incorporating specifics of the City order, as well as CDC guidance, into the University’s plan to reopen campus for work in the coming weeks.  

Planning also has begun to reopen campus in the fall for face-to-face instruction. Our hope is that additional recommendations from CDC and yet-to-be-determined Phase II guidance by City officials will give us greater clarity and leeway to conduct in-person classes. Those determinations will have a direct impact on how the fall term will proceed. 

If the City’s Phase II guidance were to continue the 6-feet social distancing requirement, our fall reopening for instruction would be complicated. But it would not be impossible. Deans and chairs are considering how such a mandate could affect section capacities and schedules – and without the financial flexibility to hire more adjunct faculty. Michael Lucido, vice president of facilities management, Registrar Jay Haugen, and their teams are surveying classrooms and other campus space to identify potential accommodations. 

The social distancing requirement certainly would affect our dining halls and our residence halls. Manisha Ford-Thomas, the director of the Office of Housing and Residence Life, and her team are considering how to accommodate that mandate during fall semester and the potential impact on our housing assignments. 

We also are considering the implementation of other public health safeguards such as testing, contact tracing, symptom checks, wearing masks, and deploying ample hand sanitizer stations. I recently tasked the COVID-19 Recovery Working Group with evaluating which safeguards are most critical for all of our community members to return to campus safely this summer for work and this fall for instruction. 

Online instruction is bound to occur 

The Provost launched the COVID-19 Fall Planning Working Group – made up of faculty, staff, students and our public health experts – to assess our fall semester options and make a recommendation.  

Those options identified by the committee include:

The Provost’s working group recommended that the University plan for the hybrid scenarios and that faculty reframe their coursework to be delivered both face-to-face and online. In any scenarios involving on-campus instruction, we will need to make accommodations for those faculty and students who are unable to be on campus due to their own personal circumstances. They may have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of a severe COVID-19 response, they may live with others who are at high risk, or they may be international students who cannot return to the U.S.  

If we can begin face-to-face instruction this fall, it is reasonable to expect that many course sections will be teaching students both in person and online at the start of the term.  

Conventional wisdom of the nation’s public health authorities and our own public health faculty is that a second wave of the virus could likely occur sometime during the traditional flu season, starting mid-October or November, at which point we may have to transition again fully to virtual instruction. 

With modified face-to-face and online instruction inevitable for many classes at the start of the semester, and with a transition to fully virtual instruction likely at some point during the fall term, faculty should plan accordingly. I appreciate the substantial demand that puts on our students and our faculty. The Provost’s team is working on additional guidance and support to share with faculty this week, but it is critical to use every working day we have prior to the start of the fall term to prepare. 

While everyone did their best with the unexpected shift to remote learning this semester, we recognize that students and faculty expect an exceptional learning experience this fall, whether in-person or virtually. We are committed to ensuring that happens.  

Planning for so many uncertainties poses significant challenges. Until the virus is defeated, public health interventions will be required. We must keep doing all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our students, staff, clinicians, and faculty.  

Please join me in continued prayer for all who have been harmed by COVID-19 whether physically, mentally, or financially. The pain is great. I also ask for your continued grace. We are considering the overall best interests of our community with every option we discuss and each decision we make. Our Catholic and Jesuit values continue to guide us. 

I close with gratitude for our clinicians, faculty and staff, who are working tirelessly to address the many issues at play here, and appreciation for our students and families for their patience and understanding. 

May God bless you and Saint Louis University. 

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

Previous Updates to the SLU Community