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Coronavirus Campus Communication 1/10/2022 – Official Message from the Office of the President

Coronavirus Campus Communication 1/10/2022 – Official Message from the Office of the President

Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends:

I look forward to stepping foot back on campus with you next week as planned! The purpose of my message is to share with you why our College will start the semester in person, along with the mitigation practices we are putting into place in an integrated manner.

Given the rapid escalation of the Omicron variant in our region, the State, and across the country, I appreciate that many of us may be feeling anxious about the coming semester. As I shared with you earlier, while there is a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and the numbers continue to climb at the moment, we are in a very different place now than when compared to 12, let alone 22, months ago.

An Integrated Approach to 2022
We all did a commendable job last semester keeping campus safe, while delivering on our promise to our students and one another. We required vaccines, conducted surveillance testing, adhered to face covering protocols, contact traced, and adjusted other protocols based on situations and context. We even started 2022 remotely with our staff to mitigate the effects of potential New Year’s Eve super-spreader events. Our data shows that these prevention and mitigation strategies, in addition to many others, have helped us better understand the virus, slow its transmission on our campus, and, along with additional layers of protection, mitigate the likelihood of severe known health implications due to COVID-19.

We also remain humble, knowing that there are still unknowns, which is why we continue to adhere to science and data to help guide our next steps. Clearly, while these protocols and our shared commitment to protect one another and those who are at higher risk within our communities have been working, we must not become complacent. Our Pandemic Assessment Team as well as our Contact Tracing Unit, among many other members of our community, have been laboring tirelessly in order to foster a healthy, well, and safe campus environment this spring; we all play an important role in the continued advancement of these efforts.

Adhering to our six priorities, our goal is to mitigate transmission on campus. No single action will be sufficient; rather an integrated approach, inclusive of some adjustments, is necessary and is being deployed.

I know that we are hearing every day about escalating case numbers, while so much around us is open. I, too, feel the stress and anxiety that comes with this news. Many of us have experienced the more recent Omicron variant, either personally or through loved ones, colleagues, and friends.  Given this situation, we will take certain measures to provide a more safeguarded environment here on campus that can benefit not only our own community but also contribute to the well-being of our surrounding communities. Let me explain.

A Shared Commitment to Well-being
We have and will continue to provide access to COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and testing right here on campus. As we have learned, vaccinations, to include boosters, greatly help reduce the severity of the virus, its symptoms, and variants. Additionally, surveillance testing helps identify positive cases so that we may swiftly take steps to help stop the spread of the virus through transmission sourcing, isolation and quarantine, and the identification of close contacts. I want to take this opportunity to thank our vaccination and testing partners New Bridge Medical Center and Visit Health Care. These partnerships continue to serve as strong examples of what can be achieved when collaboration, talent, civic mindedness, and resolve are at the forefront.

Through an integrated approach to wellness, we plan to take further steps on campus to help foster everyone’s well-being. For example, we will deliver on our promise to students so that they may safely engage together in student programming, classroom activities, and co-curricular opportunities. I will briefly detail each step below, but let me summarize here: we will include booster requirements, testing, contact tracing, strict adherence to face covering protocols, adoption of the latest CDC isolation procedures, and the prohibition of food and drink at large gatherings. We will also continue several of the protocols that were put in place last month, which include the suspension of the social gathering and guest and visitation policies from all residence halls and apartments, and the suspension of spectators at sporting events. Additionally, our Bookstore is working to secure multi-layered face coverings and home test kits.

All of these actions, taken together via an integrated approach, provide us with an opportunity to mitigate campus transmission and thus contribute to the health of our surrounding communities. The Pandemic Assessment Team will provide more information on these actions, but here is a brief summary of the specific actions we will take to strengthen our health and safety mitigation strategies on campus:

All students, employees and campus partners, who are eligible and do not have an approved vaccination exemption, will be required to show proof of having received a COVID-19 Booster by February 28, 2022. Booster eligibility is found here.

All residential students will be required to show proof of a negative test result in order to return to residence next week. Exempted residential students and our student athletes are required to test twice per week. Exempted commuter students are required to test once per week. Exempted employees are required to test once per week.

Further, our surveillance testing site, operated by Visit Healthcare in the Overlook, is for individuals who are not sick. It will continue to accommodate students and employees who have no symptoms, have been fever free for at least 24 hours, and wish to receive a PCR test. Sick students can arrange for a test in Health Services. In addition, New Bridge Medical Center will host vaccination/booster clinics in the Trustees Pavilion for campus and members of the public on January 13 and February 9.

Face Coverings
Face coverings are still required indoors on campus. Coverings must be worn correctly, fit snugly, be washable or disposable, and have layers. The College continues to keep a supply of such face coverings on hand for students, employees, and visitors who forget, spoil, or misplace their coverings. Such face coverings will also continue to be available for purchase in the College Bookstore.

Data Tracking and Contact Tracing
We are collecting and assessing the vaccination and booster rates among students, faculty, and staff, and will soon be updating the College’s COVID-19 Dashboard to report this data. We continue to rely on our data and your timely and forthright participation in contact tracing efforts, whether you are presumed or confirmed positive for COVID-19 or are identified as a close contact.

Isolation and Reporting
Some of our isolation protocols have been updated as follows:

  • Based on revised guidance as well as the congregate nature of on-campus residences, all residential students and Residence Life staff, if positive for COVID-19, will be required to isolate for 10 days.
  • All commuter students and employees, if positive for COVID-19, may isolate for 5 days and can leave isolation as long as they continue to have no symptoms and have been fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
    • These students and employees will be directed to wear face coverings at all times for 5 more days while around others. If they are unable to wear the coverings, they will be required to isolate for 10 days.
    • If someone is directed to wear a face covering around others, they may not eat or drink in common areas of the College such as the Atrium, meeting rooms, classrooms and any other public/shared spaces. They should bring their own meals or participate in the College’s grab-and-go option.

Caring for oneself demonstrates care for others. Students are reminded to continue to report if they test positive for COVID-19 to Health Services, and employees are reminded to continue to report a positive test result to Human Resources. If you do not feel well enough to study or work/teach, you must stay home, rest, and seek medical attention as needed. Further, if you are asymptomatic (have no symptoms and have been fever free for at least 24 hours) and you are identified as a close contact but are awaiting test results, please stay home until you receive your results and relevant guidance.

Food Service/Consumption, and Gatherings
As mentioned earlier, in mid-December, our contact tracing data led us to take several swift actions:

  • We suspended our social gathering and guest and visitation policies in all residence areas.
  • We canceled the provision of food at large College-sponsored events/gatherings.
  • We encouraged students and employees who are asymptomatic to participate in surveillance testing.
  • We prohibited spectators from attending indoor sporting events.

We will continue utilizing these strategies and uphold all of these decisions as well as a range of other health and safety measures (e.g. Birch Tree Inn is dedicated for students; the Atrium and Dunkin Donuts are dedicated for all members of our community; and continued frequent handwashing, daily symptom self-screening, and covering coughs, etc.).

Stepping Forward Together
As always, we continue to monitor conditions and guidance, and we appreciate everyone’s adaptability and resiliency as our protocols will surely continue to evolve with a changing environment.

I have heard this pandemic described as now approaching an endemic and, while this is an unfortunate circumstance, it is our current reality. Given this reality, we have an opportunity to provide a more safeguarded environment here on campus that will benefit not only the Ramapo community but also contribute to the well-being of our surrounding communities. Our capacity to manage this reality and even grow alongside it increases immensely when we step forward together as a team.

2022 is here. Let’s safely step into it as bold, kind, and good teammates.

Cindy Jebb