Letter from President Ken Evans

Coronavirus Update

Issued: Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m.

 

 

May 5, 2020

 

It is our fervent wish we never see a repeat of the spring semester of 2020.  We should all be extremely proud of how we moved productively forward together during this very difficult time. I credit the faculty, staff and students of Lamar University for their tenacity, innovation, hard work and compassion for the success of our university during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With that same resolve, we now look forward to reopening our campus and resuming face-to-face classes in the fall of 2020.  Our approach to reopening will be contingent upon information and caveats from the CDC and based on the Guidelines – Opening Up America Again and Open Texas (Guidelines). We call on each member of our community to act responsibly as we re-engage, continue to follow all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for others in our community.

In accordance with the Guidelines, the plan to reopen our campus assumes the following state/local gating criteria have been satisfied:

  • A downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and a downward trajectory of Covid-19-like syndromic cases;
  • A downward trajectory of documented cases of COVID-19 or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests; and
  • Hospitals can treat all patients without crisis care and there is a robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.

Ideally, once these criteria are met we could return to the way things were before the pandemic.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Because the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students is our first priority, we will strategically phase our return, mindful that if the virus reemerges, efforts to resocialize may be slowed or halted for a time until the situation improves and the gating criteria are once again met.  Please keep in mind the reality we are all navigating lacks predictable benchmarks and the comprehensive understanding we all desire.  In short, we will need to do the best we can, informed by science and recommended best practices, as we move forward. While we cannot eliminate all risks, we will do everything we can to mitigate them, including:

  • Adhering to social distancing protocols;
  • Encouraging enhanced personal hygiene practices, including regular handwashing;
  • Making hand sanitizer available, especially in areas where soap and water for handwashing are not readily available;
  • Requesting employees, students, and visitors self-screen for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 before coming to campus;
  • Allowing cloth facemasks or other protective equipment items to be worn at the discretion of individuals;
  • Providing safety equipment to employees based on job responsibilities and OSHA risk levels;
  • Checking temperatures where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained in groups of 10 or more;
  • Sanitizing and disinfecting common and high-traffic areas;
  • Encouraging self-monitoring;
  • Requiring isolation, if positive cases of COVID-19 are confirmed, and following up with contact tracing;
  • Precluding university-related business travel; and
  • Preventing symptomatic people from returning to work physically until cleared by a medical provider.


No doubt, there will be inconveniences. We hope they are short-lived but, in the interim at least, we will be able to return to our campus, colleagues, friends and face-to-face learning.

We will take extra precautions to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially those with conditions we know heighten the risks of the most severe COVID-19 cases such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.

Below is an outline of our current approach to a phased reopening. Please keep in mind the guidance and knowledge are changing frequently, which may necessitate altering plans. Additionally, this should not be considered an exhaustive list of considerations, as inevitably items were unintendedly omitted and/or special circumstances and considerations may require alteration.

Phase I
Continue Current State of Operations/Future Planning for Return to Campus (already in effect)

Most employees continue to engage in alternative work configurations (i.e., telecommuting, flexible work options, rotations, etc.).  Essential employees not working remotely continue to report to campus. 

Further considerations may include:

  • Employees who desire to return to campus to work may do so;
  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place where feasible;
  • Gatherings of 10 or more people should be avoided unless precautionary measures of physical distancing and sanitization are in place;
  • Virtual meetings will be encouraged whenever possible and feasible;
  • Continue 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. office hours;
  • Building closures/restrictions remain in effect;
  • Divisions develop plans to best accommodate the return to work of their remaining employees; and
  • Campus will remain closed to outside persons (only faculty, staff, students or contractors permitted).

Advancement to Phase II is dependent on gating criteria imposed at State/Regional level with additional emphasis on number of cases in local and campus community.

Phase II (Assuming Phase I has been implemented successfully)
Partial On-Campus Operations Resume (estimated no earlier than May 18) 

Elements of Phase II may include:

  •  Employees without approved extension of alternative work configurations (i.e. telecommuting, flexible work options, rotations, etc.) will return to normal work schedules and places of work;
  • Gatherings of 10 or more people should be avoided unless precautionary measures of physical distancing and sanitization are in place;
  • Virtual meetings will be encouraged whenever possible and feasible;
  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place, where feasible, or be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home and appropriate isolating precautions should be taken;
  • Buildings will be open or will have restricted access based on needs and occupancy rate;
  • Continue to increase staffing/work configurations to normal while practicing distancing;
  • Non-essential travel should be minimized and CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel should be implemented;
  • Gyms and common areas where student-athletes and staff are likely to congregate and interact should remain closed unless strict distancing and sanitization protocols can be implemented;
  • Return to 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. office hours; and
  • Campus will remain closed to outside persons (only faculty, staff, students or contractors permitted).

Advancement to Phase III is dependent on gating criteria imposed at State/Regional level with additional emphasis on number of cases in local and campus community.

Phase III (If Phase II has been implemented successfully)

Most Campus Operations Return to “Normal” Operations (estimated to occur by July 1) 

 
Phase III would incorporate the following:

  •  All employees physically report to their place of work;
  • All buildings, including academic buildings, open following normal summer schedules;
  • Campus will reopen for limited outside visitors as necessary;
  • Nonessential travel will be reviewed; and
  • Gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided unless precautionary measures of physical distancing and sanitization are in place.

As previously announced, both of Lamar University’s summer sessions will be offered exclusively online. This allows us to implement policies and procedures for a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff and visitors on campus beginning in the fall.

These plans will continue to be in development and dependent on what happens with the novel coronavirus over the next three months. Until it can be managed through widely available treatment – prevention and/or vaccination - this strategic, yet nimble, phased approach will be implemented, but monitored, and adjustments made to protect the health of the Lamar University community. 

Many of you will have questions, concerns and input about the return to campus. As we begin to work through this plan, we will provide additional detailed information. Please stay connected to your campus communications for the most up to date information and visit the frequently asked questions located at lamar.edu/coronavirus. Questions may also be submitted through the “Have a Question” form located on this page and will be forwarded to the appropriate department or person to respond.


Again, thank you for your hard work, dedication and commitment to ensuring the continuity of education during this pandemic. I look forward to the same successes as we safely return and meet again on campus.

 

Sincerely

Ken Evans