Jan. 13: Questions Asked on Tuesday

Message sent to students from the Core COVID Response Team:

Thank you to the many who attended Tuesday’s town hall. We understand the frustration the pandemic has created. This is not the experience you anticipated, nor is it what we hoped for you. We would like to provide a little better understanding on a few topics that came up Tuesday.

Requests For Room And Board Refunds

It’s logical to presume that when you pay room and board that you are paying a certain dollar amount for a certain number of days, much like a hotel room. That is not how Davidson, nor many colleges and universities, work. We’re charging for and providing a residential experience: a room, building cleaning and maintenance staff, upkeep of the grounds, Residence Life staff, residence hall activities, student medical services, etc. That’s part of why many students enroll at Davidson. They seek, and we provide, much more than food and a place to sleep when you are not in class.

What you pay covers a little more than half of the actual costs. Tuition and room and board cover around 58 percent of the cost of a Davidson education. You are not charged for the rest. It is paid for by earnings from the endowment, gifts to the college, grants and other income.

That’s during normal times, and obviously the pandemic has created far from normal circumstances. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the college spent more than $10 million on testing, isolation and quarantine, enhanced cleaning of residence halls and other measures to keep you safe. We have continued to incur additional expenses this year.

None of those costs were passed on to students or their families in bills.

The questions around refunds presume that the full costs of providing you a safe residential experience are reflected in what you are charged. That is not the case, and we have shielded students and their families from the extraordinary additional expenses of the pandemic.

Some of you compared the start of this semester to March of 2020, when we did provide refunds. That was an extraordinary step that we took to help ease several changes: the onset of a pandemic for which no one was prepared, an abrupt request to leave campus in the middle of the semester and an unprecedented shift to remote instruction. Those are not the circumstances today.  

Dining Dollars

Any dining dollars that returning students do not use this semester will roll over to the fall semester. That is an exception to our established policy in light of the circumstances.

Pre-Arrival Testing

Your pre-arrival test should be taken within 48 hours before arrival on campus. Our message on Friday outlined the testing options, and an antigen test administered by a provider, such as a drug store, remains the best option, if it is available to you.

Athletic Events On Campus

Several of you asked why we were allowing fans at basketball games while delaying your arrival. Students in residence halls are not required to be masked, and you live and sleep in the same room with one another. None of those things are true of fans at games. We also are requiring that fans be fully vaccinated, in addition to masked, and have event staff enforcing mask guidelines in the crowd.

We are grateful for your resilience and patience and for your continued concern and support for each other.

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Jan. 7: Arrival Testing and Town Hall for Students

Message sent from the Core COVID Response Team:

Davidson Students,

We share your disappointment and frustration with the pandemic’s impact on the start of spring semester, as President Quillen shared with you earlier today. There are two important updates in this message, so please read to the end.

Testing 

We recognize and want to address the challenges of getting an antigen test. Here are options that we hope will make it easier to provide a negative test result from within 48 hours prior to arrival:

PCR Test – You may submit a negative PCR test instead of an antigen test. Our caution here is that PCR tests are more sensitive and may read as positive if you had a COVID infection as long as 90 days ago.

Past infection – Another alternative is a combination of 1.) proof of a booster shot combined with 2.) proof of an infection after December 1 but NOT within the 10 days preceding arrival.

At-home test – A negative at-home test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival, and this obviously follows the Honor Code. Please be attentive in administering the test, as our hesitation over using at-home tests is driven by a high rate of user error at the self-testing site this past semester.  

If you still have a question about a test, please call Student Health and Well-Being at 704-894-2300 during business hours. 

We expect next week to send you details on how to upload your test results.

Town Hall For Students 

Please join President Quillen, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Students Byron McCrae and Director of Athletics Chris Clunie for a Zoom Town Hall meeting. This will provide an opportunity to answer your questions and share updates as we approach the beginning of the spring semester. We will use the chat function on Zoom to submit questions or you can submit them in advance to covidsuggestions@davidson.edu

[Zoom details provided via email.]

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Jan. 7: President Quillen’s Message to Students About The Return To Campus

Message sent to students from President Quillen:

Davidson Students,

I write to provide as much information as possible about the decision to delay your return to campus. I understand your anger and frustration—in your position, I’d be angry and frustrated too. I’m so sorry that once again your lives and your time at Davidson are disrupted. You deserve the fullest possible explanation that I can give and that is the purpose of this email. 

Please know that I want for you what you want: a normal semester on campus. This decision reflects that desire. Here are the facts and assumptions about Omicron that guided my decision:

  • Omicron is much more contagious than other variants. Vaccines and booster shots offer good protection against infection but less so than they did against Delta. 
  • The CDC and NC health officials continue to recommend isolation for at least 5 days for people who test positive and strict masking around others for 10 days. 
  • The positivity rate in NC is over 30% (over 40% in Mecklenburg County) and our campus infections among employees are as high as they ever have been. 
  • Among students now on campus or in town, the positivity rate among vaccinated and even boosted people is higher than it was with Delta. 
  • Omicron may peak quickly and then decline. Some infectious disease experts predict that this peak will occur by the third or fourth week of January. 
  • Omicron seems to cause less severe disease, especially among the vaccinated and boosted. 

Here are the facts and assumptions about our community that guided my decision: 

  • When we think of health we should think of overall well-being—mental, physical, and spiritual.  Serious restrictions on activities (on visitors, gatherings, etc.) cause stress and contribute to a sense of isolation. On campuses where students have been “locked down” these feelings become much more prevalent.  We need to avoid these as much as we can. 
  • The more students we have on campus, the faster Omicron can spread. Residence halls are very dense living environments where the risk of spread is significant. 
  • We are at the highest risk of spread at the beginning of a semester. This has been our experience throughout the pandemic.
  • We cannot ask students to wear masks in the residence halls. It’s unenforceable and unreasonable. 
  • The college relies on people to be physically on campus so that we can serve students.
  • Different individuals in our community have had radically different personal experiences with this virus and disease in general.  This personal experience influences how each of us assesses facts about Omicron.  Many remain very worried and fearful. 
  • Several valued employees quit their jobs rather than get vaccinated. Some indicate they will quit their jobs rather than work on a dense campus while omicron positivity is high and rising. 

Here are the situations I am trying to avoid with this delay: 

  • Omicron cases continue to rise, and we have so many students and employees in isolation that we have to lock down campus or pause campus operations. 
  • Omicron spreads rapidly through one residence hall and we exceed our capacity to safely isolate the number of people who test positive. 
  • An Omicron outbreak requires us to impose harsh restrictions which fall disproportionately on students. 
  • We tax an over-extended health care system on campus and in our community that is increasingly struggling to deal with Omicron and other health emergencies. 

Here’s why a delay helps:

  • Omicron, we hope, will peak and decline, limiting community spread, easing the strain on health care,  and lowering everyone’s risk of infection. 
  • We will learn more about Omicron, how it spreads, and for how long infected folks are contagious. 
  • We will learn more about the effectiveness of vaccines and boosters, and we will verify that Omicron is less severe. 
  • This information will help us to provide as normal a semester as possible while safeguarding the well-being of students, employees and our community.  

Let me address some of the questions you’ve posed: 

Pre-Arrival Testing: The COVID team recognizes that access to antigen tests is a challenge and you need more options. We are providing those. PLEASE look for a message soon from the team that will describe options for using: 1) a PCR test, 2) a self-test, or 3) evidence of a very recent COVID infection plus a booster shot as your pre-arrival test.

Early Arrivals on Campus: Students who were authorized to arrive early should arrive as scheduled. In addition, some students need to be on campus prior to the weekend of January 28. This small group includes students doing independent lab experiments that must begin at a specific time;  students who have in-person rehearsals for major scheduled performances; and a few others with specific academic or co-curricular situations. If you’re in one of these groups, an advisor will reach out to you directly. Thank you for your patience. 

Travel Challenges: Many airlines and hotels are waiving change fees during this pandemic. If the delay in campus arrival is causing you and your family significant challenges, please reach out to the Dean of Students’ Office or to me. We are here to help you.  

Town Hall: We will hold a town hall for students next week on January 11th. The COVID team will provide more details shortly.

I understand that if you were in my position, you might have made a different decision. I’m operating with the information I have, using the best judgment I have, as I strive to fulfill the mission of the college. 

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Jan. 5: Important Information About Spring Semester

Message sent from the Core COVID Response Team:

We hope the holiday break afforded you some time to rest and to enjoy being with your families. We want to provide an update regarding the start of the Spring semester.

We need and appreciate your help in returning for the spring semester in the safest manner possible.

The COVID team has closely followed developments around Omicron. We know from public health reports and, as you likely do, from the experience of family and friends that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than its predecessors. Given what we’re learning (and we learn more each day), we will delay arrival on campus until January 28 – 30 for all students who are not already authorized to return early. 

The first day of in person instruction will be January 31st.  At that time all classes will meet in person.

The semester will begin one week earlier, on January 24th. That first week will be a form of reading week, with asynchronous work assigned by your professors. Faculty members already are developing a variety of options for those days, from reading assignments to introductory videos to preparing materials for the first in person day. 

The add/drop deadline will be pushed back to February 4.

The dates of spring break and Commencement remain unchanged and will happen as originally scheduled.  

An updated academic calendar will be posted shortly.

We know this delay causes inconvenience, travel problems and stress for many families. We’re making this move because it gives us the best shot at having a successful semester as a residential liberal arts college. The strength of our face to face community grounds learning in and out of the classroom. That distinctive learning experience and our aspirational mission are what brought students, faculty and staff alike to Davidson. Our mission is best achieved—some would say can only be fully achieved—when we are together here on campus.

Why We’re Pushing Back The Start of The Semester 

What we know about Omicron gives us hope that it will dissipate more quickly than its predecessors. Every day gives us more information and better traction to keep it in check on campus.  

We have some data based on experience with students who are here now. First, the overall incidence of COVID upon return is higher than in previous semesters. Second, the limited data we have from our student population suggest that booster shots and pre-arrival tests do make a difference. Extra time before move-in gives all students the chance to get a timely booster shot and to schedule a timely pre-arrival test.  

Here Are The Other Ways We Seek Your Help

  • Get boosted – Students are required to get a COVID booster shot if eligible by January 20th to return to campus.  If not eligible for a booster by Jan 20th, you must be boosted no later than two weeks from the date you are eligible.  You are eligible for a booster if it has been greater than six months from your second Pfizer or Moderna shot or greater than 2 months from the J&J shot.  If you had a recent COVID infection, you can get your booster 14 days after your symptoms started or you had a positive test. Please upload your booster shot information through the student health portal.
  • Schedule a test now – Students must have a negative antigen test within 48 hours of returning to campus. Testing outlets, such as chain drugs stores, have wait times of several days right now. Please go online and schedule your test now based on your return date. We will provide information soon on how to upload test results. At-home tests and PCR tests will not be accepted.
  • Mask up – Our mask protocols will remain in place in the spring semester and may be more stringent in the first weeks.
  • Snap a photo or carry your card – Proof of vaccination will be required to attend women’s and men’s basketball games for all fans ages 5 and up. Current Davidson students, faculty and staff may show their CatCard as proof of vaccination.  (Athletics will provide further details in advance of Saturday’s men’s game. If you have questions, please call the Athletics ticket office at 800-768-2287.)

You will have questions, and we ask for your patience as we provide more information in the coming days.

Thank you for your help and your commitment to protect and support each other.

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