A screenshot of participants at the Sept. 17 event.
The start of the academic year on Sept. 20 also represents the start — or return— of life on campus for all Drexel University faculty and professional staff, as well as students. But before that key date, leaders of Drexel’s Return Oversight Committee and members of various academic and administrative areas held a virtual town hall to address what would happen on campus and in person this fall, and to answer faculty and professional staff questions.
On Sept. 17, more than 600 participants joined presenters to learn the most current and up-to-date policies and procedures used to ensure a safe return to in-person activity on campus for all Dragons. The topics covered in presentations, pre-submitted questions and a live Q&A were related to everything from masking and vaccination, to ventilation and air purification, to flex work policies and on-campus visitors, to faculty office hours and procedures for moving classes online.
What follows below is a consolidated and edited transcript of the event. The full event can be viewed in its entirety below and also on the “Return to Coronavirus” website. For additional information, please visit the “Response to Coronavirus” website.
Drexel University Faculty and Professional Staff Health and Safety Town Hall (September 17, 2021)
This is a recording of the virtual town hall held for Drexel University faculty and professional staff on September 17, 2021 concerning health and safety as campus opens in the fall.
Health: Vaccines, Testing, Positive Cases, Exemptions and Boosters
On the current vaccination status of Drexel students, faculty and professional staff:
Director of the Return Oversight Committee and Chief Wellness Officer Marla Gold, MD: We have a vaccine mandate at Drexel and at this point in time, employees are 95% vaccinated, 1% are exempted and 4% are in progress, which means that they’re not quite finished with vaccination, or they’re being looked at where they are in terms of the mandate.
For students, if we look at who we know are fully vaccinated, it’s over 92%. If we look at everybody in progress, it’s well over 95% and less than about 1.5% of students have been exempted. When we say “in progress,” it could mean something like an international student didn’t have access to vaccine in their homeland and they’ve gotten their first dose of U.S.-approved vaccine here. Note the percentages don’t quite add up to 100% and that’s because we more than likely have some students who are not coming to campus this quarter and we do not know for certain as yet who they are. The total “N” of students will most likely become smaller and the percent vaccinated increase as a result.
I want to add that we do check the cards that are uploaded [on the Drexel Health Checker app] and the information that has been provided in terms of vaccination.
On positive cases found during move-in and Welcome Week:
Gold: In the last week, we have had the pleasure of having over 2,600 students move to campus for the first time, many into University housing and Greek housing. All of them were gateway tested regardless of vaccination status. There were five positives that were found; if you do the math, it comes to about a rounded 2% at entry. And these were all asymptomatic individuals who are now isolated appropriately. With containment and everything we’re doing, I would say we’re doing a very, very good job.
On Drexel’s testing system:
Medical Director of Drexel Student Health Janet Cruz, MD: In terms of our testing program, we’ve done quite a bit of education regarding what students should do in terms of etiquette around roommates, since this is going to be their new family away from family. We have testing available on campus and our turnaround times are 12 to 24 hours for PCR testing. We do that for anyone enrolled in our mandatory testing program for surveillance, meaning that our unvaccinated individuals and any individuals that are vaccine-exempt will be tested through us.
A lot of that is because our turnaround times are fast. What we’ve been seeing in the community is when people get a test, sometimes it takes two or three days for a result. I encourage everyone to use our internal testing, which is fast and free of cost for our community.
You can schedule a test through the app. We make walk-ins available. The results will go right to the individual. Our contract-tracing team will have access and will be in touch with individuals who tested positive right away.
With individuals that are sick that are starting to have symptoms, I do encourage that they do get tested through our testing units. We have special protocols to ensure that our sick individuals are tested away from others. For individuals that are symptomatic, we recommend they wait at least 24 hours before testing.
With individuals that are unvaccinated or part of special program, like athletics, we notify these individuals of what their testing cadence will be. We have a data team that make sure that they are compliant, and that information gets filtered back either to academic units or HR.
On what happens when an individual tests positive:
Cruz: Our instruction right now is anyone that is having respiratory symptoms needs to stay home. That applies to all students. For individuals that test positive for COVID, our contact-tracing team engages with them really quickly. With our turnaround times being less than 24 hours, a lot of times they’re tested through us, and by the end of the day, we have already contacted that individual and completed case investigations.
On what happens for exposures to COVID-19:
Cruz: For individuals that are exposed, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, we are recommending a test at day five. For individuals that are vaccinated, they can continue doing their normal activity with the mask in every interaction, whether indoors or outdoors, or whether they’re in their own family units. They must wear a mask for seven days and then test on day five. For individuals that are unvaccinated, they will be quarantined for seven days and test on day five.
If you have any questions regarding exposure, you can email email@example.com and all of those questions come back to our contact tracing team. We’re able to give you the correct information.
On what qualifies as an “exposure:”
Cruz: The definition of an exposure is 15 minutes or more, regardless of masking, over a course of a 24-hour period with an individual that has tested positive and it’s in their infectious window. An infectious window starts two days before someone develop symptoms or two days before someone has a positive test. Our contact tracers are trained to see what the environment looks like. They ask, okay, how big was the space? What type of masks people were wearing?
In terms of masking, now we’ve subdivided exposures into high-risk exposure and low-risk exposure; reviewing our data over the last year, if both individuals are masked and they’re following proper guidance in terms of making sure that they don’t take off their mask, we have not seen transmission happen that way. We’ve been seeing transmission happen when people, for example, go to birthday parties or they have people over their house.
On how an individual would be notified if a contact has tested positive:
Cruz: Our case investigation team gets to that positive case pretty quickly. We assess the environment — who’s masked, who’s sitting next to them. For individuals that are deemed a close contact, meaning those individuals that were sitting next to that student or if they interacted with that professor, contact-tracing will get a hold of them and give them instructions on what to do, whether it’s self-monitoring, tests and/or quarantine, depending on their specific situations. We do acknowledge that every classroom is a little bit different. We have classrooms that, by the nature of it, students interact with each other but sometimes we won’t be able to identify every student that may have come in contact with that case.
In those situations, we have a team that makes the decision if the class needs to go offline, or if everyone in that class is going to be notified. I will tell you that every time we have a positive case, we pull the rosters for these classes to see how many people in that same class test positive. If there’s a link, we’ve already identified different key members in the University that need to be notified depending on what type of student they are. So, for example, let’s say there is a student that is in University Housing; Housing will get notified, especially if they need to be moved into isolation spaces. And then notification will come from Student Life to the advisor regarding who’s in isolation and quarantine and then for how long.
Gold: I just want to reinforce this: if anyone’s infected with COVID, we look at where they are, if they’ve been in campus at all, if they were on the campus, in a classroom, etc. Contact tracing is done. The isolation of an individual who is found to be positive through testing happens probably faster here than most places because test results, with the gold standard PCR, are available to us very fast. Someone who is being isolated and moved has been contacted by morning, at the latest, when they tested the day before and sometimes even before then.
On what happens for positive tests for COVID-19:
Cruz: Any individual that has tested positive, whether vaccinated or not, whether they have symptoms or not, will be isolated or instructed to isolate for 10 days. Our case investigation team, our contact-tracing team, will give them information of when they will be released from isolation on the back end. We also send notification to our academic units regarding when individuals are going to be released to class. For our clinical site, we have a different process just because it’s for clinical rotations exposures. Anyone that has tested positive gets a letter clearing them and they have to submit that letter before they go to clinical rotation.
I just want to remind our faculty and staff that for anyone that has tested positive, our case investigation and contact tracing team will give you notice and information of when you could return. We help arrange all of that. And for staff members or faculty that are feeling sick and need medical advice, we encourage them to reach out to their primary care physicians because your primary care physician will know what to do depending on your specific medical needs. For students, we do that here at Student Health.
On Drexel’s exemption process:
Cruz: There is information regarding how to submit an exemption. That link goes to our team. We have one for religious exemption, and we have one for medical exemptions. At this point, we’ve gotten through all the exemptions that have been submitted over the last couple of months, but they still come in from time to time.
We notify individuals that they’ve been approved or not approved. For individuals that have been approved, we do give them instructions on what they must do on campus: their testing regiment, masking protocol, what they must do to keep themselves safe, limiting high-risk behaviors. For individuals that are denied, they can appeal. However, upon a denial, they will have to get vaccinated.
Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Megan Weyler: Anyone with an approved exemption must test weekly. We have a very small population of faculty and professional staff who have not yet responded. When we implemented the COVID-19 policy, we included a progressive disciplinary process for those who have not provided vaccination documentation or requested an exemption, which leads to termination for non-compliance. It is a requirement for all faculty and professional staff to abide by the policy. The progressive disciplinary process is underway for that small group of individuals who have not yet complied. We hope to have compliance across the University very shortly.
On requiring and/or offering booster shots:
Gold: First, the Drexel Health Checker app is current and there’s currently no place to upload that third dose. We are getting to it. For now, please hold on to your information. Two, we will not be mandating the booster as part of the mandate. At this time, there’s no clear science to support mandating the third dose (booster) for anyone as part of our overall vaccine mandate.
We will follow the CDCs guidance for the groups that are recommended for a booster dose. Right now, that includes immunocompromised individuals, and immunocompromised individuals are able to receive their booster dose at our site. Our vaccine clinic is available right now Wednesday morning at Student Health and Thursday afternoon at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.
Cruz: We’ve already been deploying boosters for individuals that have needed it. There is a link on the COVID website that outlines how to schedule an appointment. As updates come, we’ll update everyone.
Work: Protocols, Procedures, Flex Work
On which Drexel employees the vaccination requirements apply to:
Weyler: The Policy applies to anyone receiving a paycheck. All entities and employment categories, including Drexel, the Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University Online and our collective bargaining units. The City of Philadelphia’s mandate requires every employee of a higher education institute to either be vaccinated or to have an approved medical or religious exemption.
For new hires that are coming in, we are adjusting our application and onboarding process to make sure that applicants and new hires are aware of the vaccination requirement and are prompted to provide their vaccination documentation upon hire. We will be updating managers to inform them of this addition to the recruitment process, especially for those individuals who are continuously rehired, such as our casual or per-diem employees that are active but may not currently be working.
We have many new hires that are coming in. We are adjusting our onboarding process to make sure that the vaccination status is included as we move forward, and we’ll be updating managers, especially for those individuals who are continuously rehired, like our casual or per-diem employees that are active but may not be working right now.
On flex work policies for the fall term:
Weyler: Hopefully you saw the “Guiding Our Return With Flexibility” communication that was released on Aug. 24. Within the communication, we focused on guiding principles for returning to campus. The guiding principles really are to help all of us find that right balance of making sure that we are fulfilling our commitments. Each of us are here for a specific role. We need to make sure that role is fulfilled and that we are servicing our students and, at the same time providing flexibility, because we know how important a flexible work environment is to our faculty and professional staff.
Within the communication, you will also see that a new flexible work arrangement request process was implemented through DrexelOne. A supervisor and employee questionnaire is provided on the HR website so that you can talk through roles and responsibilities prior to your final submission to ensure there is a good balance in your flexible work arrangements. Since the release of that communication, we have had over 500 requests already submitted.
I do want to level set. We’re coming back, everything reopens on Monday and Fall term begins. This is not going to be perfect. This is a big cultural change for us across the University. We went from being primarily fully in-person, to suddenly remote, and now we are coming back in this hybrid environment.
There are resources that have already been listed on the Flexible Work Arrangement Resources webpage. There are quite a few groups that are working on more resources, including resources for working with technology in a remote/hybrid environment, for ordering computer equipment, for creating standards across the University for procurement services, and more. We need to be intentional about everything we do moving forward because we must consider both those who are going to be remote at any given time as well as those who are on campus.
On flex work and the City Wage Tax:
Weyler: Think back to when we were all forced to go remote 18 months ago because Philadelphia closed down and we could not work on campus, with a few exceptions that were able to do so. When that occurred, from a tax perspective, the Philadelphia City Wage Tax shifted and the liability went back to where you live, because that’s where you were living and working. Now, we are all returning to campus, although many with flexible schedules. Because of this, the Philadelphia City Wage Tax will be turned back on effective Oct. 1 for everyone.
Of course there’s always an exception for remote work.. To be exempt from Philadelphia City Wage Tax, it must be a requirement of the employer that you work remotely. The University is eliminating some leased space. Many of the departments who previously occupied these spaces are able to continue their work remotely, and therefore the University is not going to take on another lease. In this case, the University is requiring these employees to work remotely, therefore, if an employee is a non-Philadelphia county resident, they would not have to pay Philadelphia City Wage Tax. But for most of our employees who are requesting flex work arrangements who have space on campus, the Philadelphia City Wage Tax is still applicable because it is being done at the employees’ request and not at the employer’s requirement.
Most of you received a communication on Sept.16 that asked you to update your current work location and also referenced the site that outlines the Philadelphia City Wage Tax. I recommend that you review that information to determine how it applies to you.
On determining flex work for employees who aren’t client-facing:
Weyler: There’s really no one size fits all. These are unique situations where flexibility is dependent upon an individual’s position and what the organization needs. You can use HR as an example: we are student- and employee-facing, and many of us need to be here on campus to provide face-to-face customer service. Many departments have similar needs. However, there are some areas that, forgive the term, may be back-end support where they’re not interfacing with any students or employees at all in an in-person environment. There’s more flexibility in that type of situation. I recommend you visit the Flex Work Arrangement Resources webpage to access the supervisor/employee questionnaire that walks you through an employee’s job responsibilities and on-campus job requirements.
There is sometimes a conflict between an employee’s personal preference versus what the organization needs, and we do have to stay focused on what the organization needs. Although many are able to complete their jobs well remotely—and they’ve proven that in the last 18 months—they may still need to be on-campus for student or employee support. That discussion needs to occur between the employee and supervisor.
On the vaccination exemption process for faculty and professional staff:
Weyler: We have a small group of individuals who have been approved for a vaccination exemption based on either medical or religious circumstances and will undergo mandatory weekly testing. Those employees need to schedule weekly tests once they return to campus next week and every week they are working on campus.
Again, the policy does include a progressive disciplinary process. If you are not in compliance, the procedures outlined will be implemented. We do take this very seriously. We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that we are creating the safest environment possible, and we expect everyone who has been vaccinated or who has received an exemption to follow these procedures.
On expanding sick leave:
Weyler: You may remember at the beginning of the pandemic when we made some temporary changes to our leave time policies. We increased the annual maximum carry-over for vacation time from 35 days to 40 days, and we also allowed for overage of sick time. The intent of those temporary policy changes was to make sure that individuals weren’t losing their leave time if they were unable to take it due increased responsibilities during the pandemic, and to ensure that individuals continued to be paid if they were sick and unable to come to work.
We will keep these temporary policy changes in place for this fiscal year. If you are sick, please stay home. The time is there. Utilize the time. We will look at these policies at the end of this fiscal year to consider extending the temporary changes.
On resources for faculty and professional staff who have been sick with COVID and/or require support:
Weyler: There are many options, each of which are listed out on the HR site. We have opportunities for well-being. Monica Fauble, our wellness coordinator, puts together wonderful programs. Hopefully many of you had the opportunity to attend the “Pandemic Pets” event because as we are dealing with stress and anxiety as we’re returning, your pet may as well, especially those who just became part of your family over this past year. We also have a new EAP program, which allows you to have immediate access to counselors and support services.
On-Campus: Indoor Spaces, Eating Options and Procedures, Visitors
On preparing your on-campus workspace:
Assistant Vice President of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety Jon Chase: We’ve been encouraging people for the last six weeks or so to come in and look around your space. Many of you have spaces that are not openly available to facilities crews when they’re roving and cleaning, so you want to take a moment to just check your area. You may need special cleaning. It’s possible that pests may have gotten into your space at one point. Our pest management folks are active on campus, but some places are secured and locked. So if you see signs of infestation, please get to us right away. I’m going to throw my email out there again, as I usually do: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will help you coordinate any of those issues, whether it’s an overall cleaning, pest management issue, signage issue, etc. We want people to know that the social distancing and maximum occupancy signs have been removed in many areas but same may remain. If you see them they can be disregarded and removed. Please let us know if obsolete signage remains in any of your areas.
On indoor ventilation:
Chase: We’ve gone through the entire campus — through all our buildings, both owned and leased, and all our instructional areas — and I can say with confidence, [it meets] ASHRE 62.1, which is the standard that is generally accepted for quality indoor air as well as occupancy during a pandemic.
For those spaces where the house system or the existing HVAC equipment is not able to achieve that standard, we have supplemented those spaces with stand-alone HEPA filtered air purifying units. Additionally, the mechanical systems have all been checked. They’ve gone through their regularly scheduled preventative maintenance. They have upgraded filters. They have been adjusted to bring in higher percentages of outdoor air. The programming has been changed so that they’ve run in occupied mode for extended hours. There’s been system upgrades, daily checks, etc.
On air purification in buildings on campus:
Chase: The CDC and the City of Philadelphia both put out information saying that open windows and fresh air is better when there’s insufficient ventilation. However, opening windows in commercial buildings can change the pressurization and create chimney effects that throw off the way that the building is performing. We want to take a different approach. We’ve assessed the ventilation in these spaces with the windows closed and have ensured that we meet the ventilation standards that are put forth for occupying during a pandemic. Additional filtration, air purifiers (HEPA filtered), have been placed around campus. We have over 600 of them deployed in different areas right now. We just recently received updated classroom occupancy lists and did an overlay of all our spaces and verified any spaces that may have a significantly greater occupancy than what we previously planned for to ensure that the ventilation meets those standards. They all do. There was a handful of locations that required additional air filtration and they’re being placed as we speak.
We also have set up operational procedures where the automated building systems are being monitored every morning by 9 a.m., both in leased places like One Drexel Plaza as well as our Drexel-owned buildings, for any type of failures or anything that may have gone down due to a minor mechanical issue. We have ample supply of standalone air purifiers to deploy in those situations. If somebody comes in and the air doesn’t seem right or it feels stuffy, that could be for a variety of reasons but we would encourage you to reach out to us. We’re monitoring that and we’re deploying filters as we need them. I don’t think that we need folks to bring additional air purifiers from home. Anybody’s that happy to do so can put one in their office if they go buy one but please ensure that it is electrically safe and UL compliant.
We have worked with our counterparts, with the building management teams in facilities like the Science Center, New College Building, Three Parkway, and so forth and so on. We’ve assessed the operational controls and the performance of those HVAC systems and we have placed our Drexel-owned air purifying equipment in locations where it’s been needed.
On masking and eating and drinking:
Erin Horvat, PhD, Senior Vice Provost of Faculty Advancement and Undergraduate Affairs: We are asking, as we said in our syllabus guidance, that masks remain on in the classroom. We know it can be challenging. Students may need to step outside to take a drink, and a faculty member may say, “We’re going to have a two-minute break. I’m going to go in the hallway to take a drink.”
Gold: Now, in general, masking is currently required indoors in our buildings and in shared spaces. You’ll see that there’s good signage on campus about that. When we talk about masking and eating, this is where it gets to be a little bit trickier. There are no strict guidelines currently about eating as there were last year. We have a highly vaccinated population. In designated spaces, such as the cafeteria, there will be signs up to have your mask on as you’re getting your food until you sit down. For events where there’s food, there is general guidance to follow, but it is not mandated at this time. We would prefer if events were outside, weather permitting. Having said that, students and faculty and professional staff are allowed to have events indoors and eating indoors in set areas. As we look at the data about spread and any issues, that could change.
We know that for some walking by, even if you’re masked and vaccinated, a group of individuals who are unmasked and eating indoors is discomforting and anxiety-producing. And we understand why. Without getting into a risk discussion — sometimes we get into numbers and risk, and sometimes it’s also just a human factor of wanting to know that you go from your office and get outside and get back in. And so, where we can create walkways without making ventilation worse for those in the walkway and keep the air healthy, we are attempting to do that. There’s a juggle between students’ ability to eat between classes and not bring food into classrooms — and the same is true for employees. We want to have rules and protocols that we can implement. If we only allow grab-and-go, there has to be somewhere to actually “go” and a way to get to class and work on time. This will be an evolving situation, no doubt.
Vice President of the Drexel Solution Institute Anna Koulas: To that point, employees that have offices obviously can close the door and eat. But for individuals that are in cubicles, can they eat indoors?
Gold: The answer is, for vaccinated individuals, especially if they’re in a cubicle and they’re sitting and the cubicle is higher than they are (higher than their head), they absolutely can sit at their desk area, take their mask off, have their lunch and then put their masks back on.
And if the FAQs site on this is lagging, forgive us. This is something that needs to be updated. As information comes in, all of this information on food could change and you will get an email about it if we have a very rapid rise of cases suddenly and we need to start looking at all of these different aspects and cutting down on some of the things that are happening.
Associate Vice President of Business Services Don Liberati: We did open up the Urban Eatery and the Handschumacher Dining Center; both are DragonCard access only, so it’s only Drexel professional staff, faculty and students who are in those spaces. For indoor eating this fall, we do have signs up to let people know that they should be masked while they’re walking around the space but can take their masks off while they’re sitting and eating. Walking through the dining locations this week, I’m very pleased to see compliance in those spaces, which is very good.
If you go to the Drexel Business Services website, there’s a map with all of our tent locations. We’ve added Adirondack chairs for outdoor seating. We have five tents on the University City Campus that are available for anyone to go eat; there are chairs and tables in there. We have one tent on the Queen Lane Campus, and in Center City we converted the former bookstore on the first floor of the Bellet Building to an indoor tent with some availability for dining in there as well.
Chase: There are some additional other smaller dining areas in Center City Campus as well. There are outdoor tables outside of Three Parkway. In the New College Building, we’re putting up some barriers to call out some areas to separate them from public for indoor eating, and the outdoor seating areas that will be addition in those areas as well should give additional overflow and ample seating. Those rooms that are indoors have been provided with additional filtration. Some of the hallways on various floors that are facing Vine Street have been established as a place where people can stop in low-traffic areas and sit down and have something to eat real quick, as well as the student center and the café area in the lobby.
On mask handouts and those who are seen not wearing masks:
Chase: We have a Health Ambassadors program in which ambassadors are going to be roaming in various location —maybe about 18 to 20 buildings — and those ambassadors will have drawstring backpacks with additional masks on them to go to hand out. Anybody can walk up to them and they may actually approach people and offer them a mask if they feel that they need one. In addition to that, at any place that has a physical security desk, the security desk will also have surgical masks on hand. That’s the standard that we have and that we are using for handouts.
On procedures for visitors coming to campus:
Gold: I’ll define visitors broadly for those of you who have events, so it could be anything from a sporting event, open houses, tours — basically, people without a Drexel ID or Drexel email, who want to come and visit the campus, really in an indoor location. They will need to obtain a visitor’s pass and the pass will be available online by the middle of next week. We are not holding anyone’s data, but in filling out that pass they will attest to being vaccinated. If they say no to being vaccinated, there’s no pass, because Drexel has made the decision that people who can be vaccinated, age 12 and up, coming to campus as a visitor need to be vaccinated. There’s a screening tool for wellness; much like the symptom check-in on the Health Checker app, there is a Health Checker visitor pass. Visitors attest that they are vaccinated, that they are well, and then they obtain this pass within 24 hours of coming to campus and will have it on their phone or they’ll have it in their hand, printed out, to present it when they arrive.
And let me say a couple of things on this. First, it doesn’t launch until next week. Second, the power of who uses it for their events will lie with the events. I don’t want to go into the weeds at this meeting, but I’ll say that more information will be coming out about the use of the pass. Third, for those who are saying attestation is not enough, we are not keeping data. What we are saying to visitors is please bring proof of vaccination and personal ID with them, should a program want to check for any reason.
Faculty: Academic Updates and Procedures
On support and planning for the fall term:
Horvat: There are three things that we’re really thinking about: the first is being prepared, the second is being flexible, and the third is being forgiving.
For being prepared: We are asking faculty to use Blackboard, as they have been. We are asking faculty to be ready to pivot if we need to with that for an individual class or the entire University. We’re asking departments to have backup plans for every class and every faculty member. We’re asking people to understand the new rules of the classrooms. We sent out a syllabus statement to all faculty that you could put in your syllabus and that also exists in the Provost Office’s website.
We are helping and supporting that preparedness by having new technology and a significant technology upgrade to all our classrooms so that if we must record classes for students who are out, we’re able to do so. That is happening and still happening. Probably today, final touches are being put on some classroom. We still have the Remote Course Facilitator program to help faculty needing to pivot to fully remote teaching and to help support students navigating the remote learning environment. It’s been well-used and works beautifully. We have the Teaching and Learning Center that’s added individual consultation to what they offer, as well as regular workshops.
We may have to accommodate differently [for those] who are going quarantine or isolation. You may be needing to record your lecture because the student can’t be in your class. We have 60 international students for whom we’re providing remote access. It’s a very small number, but we need to accommodate those students who physically can’t get back to the United States, and we may need to figure out how to provide continuity of instruction for students who become ill and are in quarantine isolation. We need to do the same thing for faculty who may be ill and may need to stay home.
Lastly, I would ask us all to consider being a forgiving as we can. I was reminded by the [University President John Fry] of our student government in a meeting this week. We were all talking about planning and so forth, and he said, “You know, we’re really worried about students who haven’t made a friend in person in two years.” Think about that. These are kids who are coming back and want to be here, and they may not have skills of making friends in person or being in class in person, and we may need to accommodate them in different ways. We’re all going to be, to a certain degree, learning as we go.
On office hours and meeting with students:
Horvat: If you are teaching an in-person class, we would expect that some of your office hours would be in-person. You may choose to hold them walking around campus. You may choose to hold them in your office, masked with the students. But if we are asking students to be back, we need to be here for them. Having said that, one of the things that students said they loved were remote office hours scheduled whenever, wherever, and that’s a double-edged sword for faculty to the expectation that we can be on for off-hours. So that is to the faculty members to manage. But the expectation is that we have some in-person opportunity to meet with students, and we think it’s a good idea to augment that with some remote office hours.
On determining if a class, or the University, needs to go remote due to COVID cases:
Cruz: If we deem that there’s a classroom that might be high risk for transmission, and we are requesting that be moved offline out of caution or to allow us to investigate that situation, you will receive directions from us so it won’t be nebulous. It would be me contacting the professor for the class to be put offline and going over procedures for testing and when class can go back in-person. We haven’t had to use that. Thankfully, we have those protocols in place in case there is a situation where we see multiple people have been positive in the classroom or we identify that it’s a hybrid situation.
Gold: We’re taking steps to provide environments with maximal mitigation or maximal risk reduction through layered strategies. I want to be clear about that. There is no one singular number or formulaic data point for when we are going to alert the campus that it needs to go remote. I can tell you the things that we are looking for. One of them is the total number of cases. First and foremost, we care about the health and wellness of the individuals. We’re going to be looking at a rise in cases. Is it asymptomatic people that suddenly we’re picking up? Is it people who are sick and need care? Is it going to be the amount of absenteeism and its impact on campus operations and classes? If our systems are hit so hard by a rapid rise in cases related to big events on campus, we may need to pause and go remote to give our system time to be able to do appropriate contact tracing and keep those safe and maximally reduce risk. The amount of absenteeism in particular classes or in enough classes may say for us to go remote for two weeks and then we’re coming back again. It’s just really to get a handle on what is happening and give people time to isolate and not interrupt their education.
We’ve had these conversations and are constantly looking at data and protocols. We meet within Drexel, we meet with Penn and Temple and Jefferson weekly, and we meet with the City of Philadelphia because we want to know what they’re seeing, how things are going and what they have found in dealing with a rise in COVID infection among students.