Update from President Hawkinson on COVID-19 Issues
To the Kutztown University Community:
It has come to our attention that some members of our community have been planning a demonstration on Tuesday to protest the university’s COVID-19 protocols.
As happened last year when five demonstrators wore “Black Death” Halloween costumes and stood on the front lawn of the President’s Residence, this year’s demonstrators are being asked to wear “hazmat” or hazardous material costumes and, if faculty, to wear these uniform-like garments to class.
While we respect everyone’s right to demonstrate, we feel the need to let our community know that if this demonstration were to occur, it is NOT an actual bio-threat to our campus or classrooms. Students and staff should not be alarmed by the appearance of demonstrators. If there were an actual emergency, the campus would be notified as usual through our KU Alert system.
Frankly, to create a “bio-threat” scenario on our campus as a rhetorical strategy, or to instill fear among our students and employees, is irresponsible. Under normal circumstances, observing individuals walking around campus or appearing in classrooms in “hazmat” uniforms would result in a massive security response to protect our community from potential harm.
We are aware of the unease of many in our community with regard to the pandemic. We understand the stress that has been placed on individuals and our institution. We are not unique, as this stress has fallen on all our citizens and institutions for the last 20 months. It takes all of us to work with each other, to comfort each other, and to find the best solutions based on science and known facts. We must avoid defaulting to extremist views on all sides of the issue.
That is why we created our COVID-19 plan. We have designated as our top priority the reopening of our campus to largely in-person instruction in a safe and secure environment. Our plan falls fully within the guidelines of the CDC and other health experts. All questions raised about our plan are addressed in the plan itself, in our FAQs, and in our weekly campus updates. Additional questions can always be sent to our pandemic website at https://www.kutztown.edu/fall2021.
With the availability of the vaccine, this past summer Governor Wolf removed his emergency order and the CDC significantly relaxed many of its guidelines. Leave benefits for COVID-19 were also suspended. We continue to monitor all recommendations from federal, state, and system authorities and will make adjustments as appropriate.
For example, when Berks County fell into a “high” infection rate last month as determined by the CDC, we reinstituted a mask requirement indoors, which continues to be in effect. As of this morning, we are working with our legal team for guidance on the new COVID-19 protocols established by President Biden last night. We have had vaccination clinics throughout the summer and will continue to have clinics in the coming months. We test all symptomatic students, close contacts and asymptomatic student-athletes who have not been vaccinated. Our positivity rates are currently very low. Those who have tested positive to date have had mild symptoms.
We have asked all students to update their health records as to whether they have been vaccinated. We also engage in contact investigations and ask students if they have been vaccinated to help determine their quarantine status. Based upon feedback received from our students through these processes, we believe that we are at a very high rate of vaccination.
This said, we urge everyone in our community to be vaccinated, if possible. We continue to monitor guidance from health experts on vaccine requirements and testing. We will soon begin voluntary asymptomatic testing on campus, as we did with Wellness Days last spring (details to come).
Our students chose to attend KU with the understanding that we offer a residential campus with largely face-to-face classes. We are committed to do all we can to keep our promise to them, while following COVID-19 guidance from governmental authorities. Unless that guidance changes, we will not be converting face-to-face classes to virtual formats, as we had to do last year.
There are no certainties with regard to COVID-19, but we will continue to operate in a manner that is determined to be safe and allows us to continue our mission of providing the best possible education for our students.
Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson