COVID-19 Campus Update

From: President Padilla
To: Students, Faculty, and Staff
Posted: March 11, 2021 at 5 p.m.

I want to update you on my March 1 decision to require remote learning for all our classes.  I made that decision because of a spike in positive results from student-wide COVID testing.  

Because we have made significant progress in containing the spread of COVID, I have decided to allow a return to in-person learning, effective Monday, March 15, but on a phased-in, conditional approach that I describe later in this email. On that date, all classes and lab sessions will return to the in-person delivery format being used prior to March 1.    

I made this decision because our precautionary actions appear to be working. Positivity rates appear to be under control and transmission therefore contained. The vast majority of those positive were asymptomatic. Contact tracing did not reveal transmission in the classroom and did not reveal any super-spreader events causing the original increase in positivity. And those who quarantined and self-isolated will soon complete those confinements, freeing up 80% of quarantine beds. And the vast majority of students appear to have taken this seriously and are taking the right precautions. 

More importantly, Provost Eric Johnson, Student Health Director Kelley Eshenaur, and I consulted this week with Dr. Maria Stamp, the health officer of Porter County. Dr. Stamp reviewed our positivity rates, contract tracing, and precautions. She concluded that there would be a low risk of transmission if we allowed students to return to the classroom. She therefore would support in-person instruction, provided that we continue to institute strong precautions on campus to prevent spread. 

So, while in-person instruction will resume, all other strict precautions started on March 1 will remain in place until further notice. Some or all of these strict precautions may be phased out soon if we all continue to follow them and other safeguards, such as wearing masks, and if we continue to make progress in keeping infection rates low. Just to be clear, these remaining strict precautions are the following:

  1. No group or organization meetings with more than four people may be conducted in person, including meetings or study groups in the Christopher Center.
  2. Groups of no more than four may eat together at Founders Table or other dining locations and tables will remain spaced to allow physical distancing.
  3. All events will remain online. Therefore, all in-person Recreational Sports activities are canceled, and the Fitness Center will remain closed. (University varsity sports teams may continue to practice and compete provided they continue the intense testing and surveillance regimen they have been subject to all year.) All Valpo Athletics events will remain closed to spectators until further notice.
  4. Student services at the Chapel may only happen virtually. The 10 a.m. service on Sunday, which is open to the public, may happen pursuant to Porter County guidelines. 
  5. Admissions tours of prospective or admitted students may resume in person, provided that they do not exceed four persons and follow all mask and distancing precautions.

Our rigorous regimen against COVID will include completion of the mandatory COVID testing of our students who have not yet been tested. Next week, Student Life will remind those remaining students about taking the test as soon as possible. Student Life will also impose quick consequences on those students who fail to cooperate. (We will also switch to a different laboratory vendor to administer these tests, one that the State of Indiana uses and that has a solid reputation for accuracy, timeliness and strict protocols.) After this batch of tests is completed, we will conduct spot surveillance testing thereafter.  

Surveillance testing for faculty and staff will take place as well. Faculty and staff received information from Human Resources earlier this week about this testing. Also for faculty and staff, the remote work policy for them will continue through the end of the academic year. They should contact their supervisor with specific questions.

Finally, our strict program will include intense scrutiny of student compliance with these precautions in Founders, the residence halls, and off campus. Residential Life will closely monitor residents obeying mask and gathering rules. Student Life and the University police department will watch for and follow up on off-campus activities that violate our precautions. I have instructed Student Life to sanction non-compliant off-campus conduct.  

This strict phased-in regimen is not only meant to keep our campus healthy. It is also meant to evolve to a stage where our students, especially our seniors, can finish their semester and college experience in as normal and rewarding a way as possible under the circumstances. There are campus traditions that happen in the spring after Easter break. I want our students to experience and enjoy them, but the only way they can is if we all buckle down and follow these precautions. However, please recognize that I instituted remote learning on the first day of my presidency and I won’t hesitate to do it again if the numbers and collective behavior warrant it. I pray it doesn’t get to that point.

I want to thank all of you for your patience, discipline, and persistence during these times of COVID. I know we all have been worn out physically and mentally. My family and I sure have been. But this is no time to relax, especially since we are so close to the end of this pandemic. Love yourselves and each other enough to fight through to the end. I am with you and so is the rest of our Valpo family. More importantly, God is with us, and if we put our faith in Him, He will give us the fortitude to see this through. Keep the Valpo Vow!