COVID-19: Reopening in the Fall
Dear Members of the Covenant College Community,
The coronavirus pandemic has caused disruption unlike anything most of us have experienced. Covenant College has certainly not been immune to the effects of that disruption. On March 12, we took the dramatic step of closing our campus and transitioning all of our courses to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. While faculty, staff, and students alike met this challenge with flexibility and grace, this was a costly decision. The closure placed burdens on every member of our community and has left all of us missing the sweetness of face-to-face fellowship that is a hallmark of life together at Covenant College.
It is in light of the losses of this semester that we look forward with particular enthusiasm to the resumption of on-campus instruction in the fall of 2020. Assuming governmental authorities permit the reopening of our campus, we will begin our fall semester in August as usual, though we are confident there will be aspects of life on campus that will be notably un-usual. We anticipate that going into the fall there will be heightened expectations for preventative healthcare and restrictions in place related to those expectations.
As we look forward to next semester, we are taking very seriously the threat posed to our campus community and to the larger community around us by COVID-19. We are committed to exercising prudence as we make plans for the coming academic year, particularly as we seek to care for the most vulnerable among us. At the same time, we do not operate in a spirit of fear. We serve a sovereign God who has been faithful to carry his people through trials, plague, and pestilence, and we will not surrender fearfully to the ravages of sin in our world.
As we plan, we are taking advantage of the many resources God has provided to us. We are blessed with access to first-rate medical and public health advisors, with a wise and dedicated board of trustees, and with committed and creative faculty and staff. In addition, Covenant does not rely on large classes or massive sporting events to make our educational and business model work. We are located in an area that is not densely populated, and yet we have ready access to health and medical resources in Chattanooga. Our ability to manage through this crisis is bolstered by all of these factors.
Taking our particular context into consideration, we are developing new policies and procedures in a number of areas. These are designed to allow us to operate on campus in the fall while providing appropriate care for the health of our community, and include:
We have appointed a task force that is working on how best to employ what we have learned in our six weeks of remote instruction to accommodate those whose health might be seriously compromised by being physically present in a classroom.
We are evaluating occupant density in our residence halls, classrooms, and other facilities.
We are establishing new cleaning protocols across the campus.
We are identifying residential isolation spaces.
We are developing new protocols for food service.
We are evaluating options for reconfiguration of the handful of large-group activities (e.g., chapel) we typically sponsor.
We are developing protocols for pre-campus testing and on-campus testing.
We are determining what tracing would look like within our community.
In addition to the consultations we have already done, we are assembling a group of public health experts and medical professionals to advise us on all of our campus health planning.
We believe the closure of our campus in March was the right decision. That decision, along with similar decisions by other institutions and organizations around the country, contributed to a flattening of the COVID-19 curve. That said, COVID-19 is not going away. It is a reality we will all have to deal with as we approach the fall semester. While there are still many unknowns—and hence any plans we make must be flexible and rapidly adaptable—we will take every reasonable precaution to ensure our campus is a safe place for those who are a part of our community and for those around us. And we will count on every member of the Covenant College family to take responsibility for looking out for one another—perhaps even at their own inconvenience sometimes—for the sake of the health of our community.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we approach life’s uncertainties, including COVID-19, confident in the sovereign care of our creator God, who has expressed his love for us by giving himself to redeem us and to make all things new. We rejoice in that hope and we move forward confidently, trusting in him to guide and protect our community as we continue to inspire and equip students to explore and express Christ’s preeminence in all things. Despite the challenges our world faces at present, there are great days ahead of us, and we are eager to get back to work!
Thank you for your continued prayers and support.
J. Derek Halvorson, Ph.D.