Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

Dear Members of the Campus Community,

The global pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in every aspect of our lives. Over the last few months, we have seen some hopeful signs. At the same time, there have been very disconcerting developments, particularly related to the dominance of the highly transmissible Delta variant. The situation is further complicated by recent research that finds vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus to others, even though they are personally unlikely to experience severe illness.

With over 165 million Americans now fully vaccinated, serious illness, hospitalization and death amongst that population has plummeted. The surge we are seeing in our community and around the country is disturbing and almost exclusively impacting the unvaccinated, which includes children who are not eligible for vaccination, those who can’t be vaccinated and those who  choose not to vaccinate.

Faced with this increase in reported cases, and in alignment with CDC and PA Department of Health recommendations, I am writing to you today to outline updated guidance for your campus experience this fall.

  • Effective tomorrow, Thursday, Aug. 5, face masks are once again required in all indoor locations regardless of vaccination status. This includes classrooms, labs, study and lounge spaces, offices, indoor athletic facilities and the library. Indoor dining areas, including Starbucks and the POD, will also require face masks when individuals are not eating or drinking.
  • Masks may be removed inside a residence hall room by the assigned occupant of that space. Masks are to be worn in all common spaces of the residence halls and when visiting another student's room.
  • For employees, masks will be required in all shared vehicles, office spaces, meeting rooms and common areas. Face masks can be removed when employees are alone in University vehicles or in their individual offices that are enclosed with partitions or walls.
  • Though masks are not required outside, unvaccinated members of our community should continue to use their best judgement in outdoor spaces that attract crowds and where social distance is not possible.
  • At this time, we will operate at full capacity in academic spaces since masks will be worn.

You will recall that when the pandemic began, there was no medical solution.Our only option was strict adherence to mitigation procedures including social distancing, masking and reduced room capacities. Over a period of less than one year, our health care and science communities created safe and highly effective vaccines. The evidence is absolutely clear: being vaccinated saves lives and ultimately is the only way we can all safely return to normalcy. In the strongest possible terms, I encourage every member of our community to get vaccinated. While our focus is currently on the Delta variant, this virus will continue to mutate within the unvaccinated community with unknown consequences.

As a reminder, you must submit your vaccination documentation or exemption form by Aug. 13. If you are not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated by Aug. 13, please complete the waiver and present the results of a negative COVID test taken within three days of your return. Once fully vaccinated, you can upload your documentation and will not be called to participate in assurance testing. Read more in our FAQs.

To be absolutely clear, you will not be permitted to return to campus until either your vaccination card or exemption waiver/test result is received. The gravity of the situation we face requires that the University carefully monitor compliance with assurance testing and the mask requirement. Those who are not in compliance with our expectations will be subject to University sanctions.

I appreciate that reinstating a masking requirement may feel like a step backwards; however, wearing a mask is a small sacrifice to make to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and our students. Thank you for your continuing diligence and commitment to the Wilkes community.

With care,

Dr. Greg Cant