Daily COVID-19 Update: June 3, 2020

Dear Bereans,

This is the update for Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Some thoughts about the present situation in our country

I do not recall a time when our country was facing three serious crises simultaneously.  We have the pandemic, a crisis that has been with us already for months, will likely continue for six months to a year or even longer, and which has resulted now in well over 100,000 deaths of Americans and incredible dislocations for almost everyone else.  We have the consequent financial crisis which is disproportionally affecting certain categories of workers.  This one is a little further removed from the immediate campus community because we have not had to engage in furloughs or lay-offs, but many others in the families of our students and our alumni are affected, not to mention the employment challenges for our newest graduates.  And now, an even more concerning and significant crisis resulting from the recent killings of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement reminding us of many similar instances in the recent past and raising again the painful history of racial discrimination extending back to the centuries of slavery in our country.

I have to acknowledge that in the face of three such desperate challenges, it is also hard for me to decide how best to communicate with the community.  While this ‘tradition’ of daily updates began with the onset of the COVID-19 disruption of our campus, it is not possible to ignore the other matters that pre-occupy, perplex and disturb us so deeply.  You probably also do not want to get any more than one email from me each day, and so I have decided that these updates will address all three of those important topics, even if one might also make an argument for concentration on one or the other.  I hope you understand and agree, but feel free to let me know if your preference would be different.

Kentucky update

Kentucky reported 265 new cases today (one of them in Madison County) and 8 new deaths.  Tragically, one of the deaths was of a 9-month old.  Gov. Beshear suggests that the large number of new cases is due mostly to increased testing in nursing homes, not yet a cause for concern about a new surge.

Berea College statement

Our statement responding to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and David McAtee will appear in the Louisville Courier Journal tomorrow.  Our community affirms that truly, God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth!

Something we can all learn from

Last week something occurred on campus that can provide a good lesson for our community.   Two on-campus students were feeling ill with COVID-19-like symptoms.  They chose not to report this to Student Life for at least two days.  After the situation finally came to the attention of Student Life, COVID-19 testing was arranged immediately.  Fortunately, both tests came back negative.  However, if one or both of those had been positive cases, many other persons on campus would have been exposed and would have been quarantined and tested.  Fortunately, that did not occur, but this represents the exact opposite of the reporting we will need from everyone once we all are able to return campus.  We must ALL be responsible for each other! Please report any and all COVID-19 symptoms immediately.

Let’s all acknowledge explicitly, as well, that the worry of possible stigmatization comes into play in matters of illness.  The person experiencing symptoms wonders whether others will look down on him or her for getting sick.  Did I not wash my hands enough?  Was I careless about social distancing?  Etc.?  Community is the answer here.  Our responsibility to the rest of the community needs to overcome any reluctance to self-report.  And the community, in turn, needs to support anyone who does so.  Let’s ALL do the right thing.

A first update from the AC on faculty and staff return to campus

Dear Berea Faculty and Staff Members,

As the College endeavors to make plans for the gradual reopening of campus operations under Governor Beshear’s “Healthy at Work” guidelines, the Administrative Committee is continuing to evaluate how to maximize the effectiveness of our employees even as we remain committed to keeping everyone as healthy as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, since the virus is still with us and poses serious health risks to some members of our community.

Under the governor’s guidelines, the College continues to encourage employees to work from home whenever possible.

Our faculty is working remotely, some are teaching during the summer term, and all are preparing for the fall term.  Non-essential staff have, for the most part, been working remotely to good effect.  Certain staff members, designated as essential, including employees at Facilities Management, Student Life, Alumni and College Relations, and other departments will continue to work on campus, supporting those students remaining on campus and performing other necessary tasks that cannot be accomplished remotely.

Individual employees, informed by their experience of the past several weeks, who believe that their work cannot be effectively and fully performed off campus should contact their supervisor and request to return to their office or other place of work.  Supervisors will transmit these requests, together with their recommendations, to the Administrative Committee member in charge of their division. Beginning on June 8, 2020, the committee, with assistance from Human Resources, will be evaluating when and how best to begin bringing staff back to campus.

Decisions on returning to work will be made with thought given to the College’s immediate needs, the health and safety of our employees, the College community and City of Berea.  Initially, only small numbers of staff will be reintroduced to campus in settings that are conducive to the new work environment.  Staff returning to campus will be required to be tested for COVID-19 and certify that they have received negative test results.

Please note that all Partners for Education staff will continue to work from home.  As school systems announce plans for the fall, decisions will be made on the return to office for PFE staff. 

This process necessarily will be deliberate and involve a great deal of preparation to assure safe workspaces, more frequent cleaning, and other health and safety initiatives recommended by the state and U. S. Center for Disease Control.  “Social distancing” and the required use of facemasks, among other measures, will be necessary for all staff, faculty and students on campus and part of our “new normal” for the foreseeable future.

For now, we will continue to encourage most staff to work remotely by agreement with their supervisors. Faculty will continue to work remotely.  Any exceptions involving faculty should be arranged through Matt Saderholm, Dean of Faculty.

With gratitude for your considerable efforts in these extraordinary times.

Stay safe, be healthy, support our community,

Lyle Roelofs, President