Coronavirus Updates

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May 26, 2020

Special message from Dr. Briggs

Dear students and parents:

As we look back over the last ten weeks, perhaps we can allow ourselves to smile and acknowledge that we did well under circumstances we would not have imagined possible. Berry students, faculty and staff worked together mid-semester to pivot abruptly and then continue with determination and good will to complete their courses and the semester. Congratulations on your resolve and hard work. Certainly, there has been disappointment and frustration along the way, but what you learned about yourselves these last weeks may well be as important as any of the subject material you studied. I am proud of our community.

With the conclusion of the academic year, we now look forward to the next. I know you have questions about what will happen this fall. The beginning of the fall term is three months away, and with continuing uncertainty as to the spread of COVID-19, any plans we prepare must be adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances.

Our aim is to resume on-campus instruction this fall. We are working deliberately toward this end. Our planning is grounded on three priorities: the health and safety of our students and employees, the quality of our academic and educational programs, and the integrity of our residential campus experience.

We believe that Berry has a number of advantages that make this aspiration realistic and sound: the college’s location in a small town with modest density, the campus’ natural perimeter with limited and managed entry points, the expanse of the campus relative to the number of students, the relatively low rate of infection in this area, and the excellence of medical care available in Rome, surpassing that of most cities its size. At present, no one can promise an opening with zero-risk, but risk can be reduced, as one expert put it, with attention to “time, space, people, and place.”

In preparing for the coming months, we are using an assessment framework that evaluates risk at any point in time based on the prevalence of cases in surrounding communities (Floyd County and northwest Georgia) as well as any incidents within the campus community itself. At each level (green, lime, yellow, orange and red), different actions can be implemented to manage the risk. These include: restricting access to campus, screening protocols, testing and tracing protocols, social distancing, use of masks and other protective equipment, limiting public gatherings, limiting movement within campus, and so on.

How we open campus or operate at any particular time will vary based on the risk level. For example, last weekend we welcomed back 100 students who are working on campus this summer. In our judgment, affirmed by the district health director for northwest Georgia, Berry and its surrounding communities are at a risk level of yellow, meaning there are only sporadic cases of household transmission in Floyd County, with no evidence of cases on campus. Accordingly, we allowed these students to return along with a partial number of employees, restricting other visitors, and screening all people entering campus every day. We have recommended the wearing of masks and allowed some work areas to require masks at the inhabitants’ request. For now, we are limiting gatherings and have implemented changes in the residence halls, dining hall and fitness center, and in the frequency and level of cleaning in residence halls and other campus buildings.

We have developed similar action templates for other risk levels and specific scenarios, and will continue to revise these templates based on feedback from local public health officials and medical leaders. We are also collaborating with an international environmental engineering firm to strengthen our processes and provide digital technology support to enhance our screening, testing and content tracing capabilities.

These planning activities will continue throughout the summer, and we will keep you updated along the way. We will be able to provide more detailed answers once we have a better sense of potential risk levels in August. I anticipate offering a webinar update later in June.

Please be aware that we are also actively exploring the possibility of starting classes one week earlier than scheduled in the month of August. Some models of the COVID-19 virus suggest that it may be prudent for students to remain home after the Thanksgiving break, until the beginning of the spring semester. If we make a calendar change, it may well involve Labor Day and Fall break as well. We will announce any calendar change by June 15th. Thank you for your patience.

As part of our preparation for the fall, a group of faculty and staff, led by Dr. Casey Dexter, are evaluating the teaching and learning efforts we employed remotely this spring. We hope not to be in this situation again, but we want to benefit from and make improvements based on this experience.

Students recently received a short (5-minute) survey about their experience with the unexpected mid-semester pivot to remote learning. If you’ve not already done so, please click on the link and fill out the survey.

Berry College Remote Learning Student Survey

Your answers are important to us. We are evaluating all of our classrooms and improving available technology so that we have increased flexibility to teach on campus in a variety of scenarios and allow medically vulnerable members of our community to participate in a way that facilitates a quality experience.

As things begin to look more optimistic regionally and nationally, please remember that our health and that of our communities is more fragile than we like to believe. Please be careful and protect the health of those around you. It’s one way to live out what it means to Be Berry.

The campus is beautiful. It awaits your return.

Warm regards,

Steve Briggs

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