Friday, August 14, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you today as we all eagerly and anxiously anticipate the start of our fall semester. Though our lengthy absence from campus was required, I have greatly missed the camaraderie and conversation that we share when we are all together. I know we have all missed our students.

With our return this fall comes the measures that each and every one of us must diligently practice to ensure that we are doing everything possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Listed below are a few of the major updates and expectations that I wish to remind you of as we embark on this new academic year.

New information:

If you attended our town hall meetings, you know that mass testing was discussed. Though we will not test all students solely because they are returning to campus, we have revised our thinking for those traveling great distances.

  • Students traveling to Wilkes from abroad will be required to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive in the United States. They must do so in Pennsylvania, or in a state that is not on the Commonwealth's list of recommended quarantine states. Students who are unable to quarantine for the 14 days due to their arrival time may also take a COVID-19 test administered in Pennsylvania or at Health and Wellness Services and present a negative test result to be cleared for classes.

  • Students traveling to Wilkes from states with high instances of virus as listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website are asked to quarantine at home before returning to campus. Once on campus, they will be administered a rapid test by Health and Wellness Services. Though limited in quantity, these tests offer results in just fifteen to thirty minutes. As you can imagine, these tests are in high demand and Wilkes was only able to acquire a small supply.

Just this week, a study was released that questions the effectiveness of neck gaiters, a closed loop of fabric that you can wear around your neck and pull over your mouth and nose as needed. These are popular masks, but the quality of the fabric leads to concerns. This study has not yet been vetted by the CDC. Folding your neck gaiter into multiple layers is best practice. Though we do not prohibit these coverings on campus, there may be better options to consider. Students who were provided with a Wilkes-branded neck gaiter this summer will also be provided with a navy blue face mask when arriving next week.

What to do before classes begin:

  • Review the policies and procedures as outlined in the Colonels Combat COVID Guidebook. This is a “living” document with updates noted in the table of contents. Please know that any major updates to our protocols will also be shared with you via email. As you know, the core principles of our return include wearing a face mask, maintaining social distance, practicing good hygiene and monitoring our own health.

  • At this point, you should have received instructions to complete a short training module on COVID-19 so that our entire community understands the facts surrounding this virus. Please complete this module before classes begin.

  • The University has created a self-screening app for the campus community. The COVID Self-Assessment is part of the Wilkes Shield app, which can be downloaded to your phone though your preferred app store. When you open the Wilkes Shield app, the COVID Self-Assessment will appear in the upper right section of your screen. You are encouraged to complete this assessment before coming to campus each day.

What to do when classes meet:

  • It is recommended that you assign seats or ask students to sit in the same seat during classes. This will help with contact tracing efforts should someone become ill. Though wearing masks greatly reduces this risk, those who have the closest contact to impacted students will be asked to quarantine out of an abundance of caution. Per the CDC, close contact is defined as being within six feet of an infected person for a period of 15 minutes or longer. Though seating charts are a viable option, some Faculty members may choose to take a photo of the classes once students are in their permanent seats.

  • The revised fall 2020 attendance policy was sent to Faculty on Aug. 11 and can be found on page 19 of the reopening guidebook and in the 2020-2021 Undergraduate Bulletin in the Academic Policies and Procedures section.

  • Due to the semester being slightly shortened, Faculty can schedule additional class meeting times as needed. Scheduling will be done through the registrar’s office to avoid student, classroom and time conflicts. Please contact Joseph Kultys or Ellen Lohr for assistance.

  • Faculty can also request cameras and microphones for classroom instruction. Please see the Today@Wilkes announcement from I.T.

  • Please end classes on time to allow for students to exit and enter classrooms as quickly as possible. Again, wearing masks greatly reduces the risk of transmission and students passing in doorways are not considered close contacts. But it is best to remind students to remain six feet apart if they are congregating in the hall prior to class.

  • Cleaning wipes will be available in classrooms and labs for students to clean their space before class. Having students wipe down their desk before class instead of after will provide additional peace of mind.

  • Due to social distancing in classroom spaces, all class cap overrides must be approved by the registrar.

  • Waitlisted students were sent a message from the registrar requesting that they not report directly to the classroom as a means to gain permission to attend. They have been instructed to email their Faculty member for permission to join the class. Please confirm with the registrar on headcount limits before approving or denying these requests.

What to do if you or a student falls ill:

  • If you are exhibiting symptoms, please seek medical advice from your primary care physician and contact Kathy Malcom in Human Resources. You should also notify your chair, dean or supervisor.

  • In the event you become sick, test positive or are required to quarantine or isolate, we are committed to working with you to help you continue teaching (should you be well enough) and to help your students continue their coursework.

  • If a student informs you that they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, please contact Health and Wellness Services (570-408-4730) and provide the student’s name. Health and Wellness Services will reach out to the student to provide the appropriate guidance.

Support services:

  • In the event that a student becomes sick, tests positive or requires self-isolation, we are committed to working with you to help your students continue their studies remotely. Please contact Jon Ference should the need arise.

  • Out of an abundance of caution, Faculty office hours for advising and instructional support should be conducted remotely, whenever possible. Students are encouraged to schedule appointments with Faculty (both virtually or face-to-face, if required) in advance.

  • Breiseth room 105 has been reserved for commuter students who have face-to-face and synchronous online classes on the same day. The library study room can be reserved if the synchronous online class requires conversation.

  • Before starting classes this fall, students are highly encouraged to participate in our “Learning LIVE” orientation course. This self-paced, fully online orientation explains all the features of the learning management system most commonly used in our online and hybrid courses and will prepare students to learn in that environment. All students have already been enrolled in this orientation and “Learning LIVE” can be found in the course menu when they log onto D2L/LIVE.

  • Information detailing disability support services will be sent to you via email.

In the coming days, Wilkes will launch a daily COVID-19 dashboard that will help us track and monitor the number of cases on campus. Please look for more information as Aug. 24 approaches.

During this pandemic, conditions and guidance have constantly changed and we’ve had to modify our policies to best keep our community safe. As the semester moves forward, we anticipate that guidelines will continue to change. We ask that you stay current with University communications, be compliant with changing directives and exercise patience as we get through this challenging time.


Terese Wignot 
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President