Due to distance learning a deserted

A deserted WMU campus leaves Knauss, Wood, and Sangren Halls, The Chemistry Building, and Waldo Library out in the cold on March 16. The buildings are opening up to students for the first time since then.

President Edward Montgomery sent an email to Western Michigan University students reaffirming that the university will open for in-person instruction as planned.

The announcement comes after Michigan State University’s decision to move online for the fall left WMU community members wondering whether the university would follow MUS's lead.

“Recently, some universities have made headlines by choosing to move their fall courses online, as Michigan State University did late yesterday… their decision has led to questions about whether our plans have changed,” reads the email. It continues:

“Given that our focus is on the health and safety of our community, we have consistently made decisions based on practices recommended by health professionals, the data about conditions on our campus and in our area, and government regulations. We will continue to do so. As the pandemic is ever changing, we are prepared to, and will, adapt accordingly. Based on these factors, we are continuing to implement our Safe Return Plan.”

According to the email, Health Officer Jim Rutherford, who is leading the community response to the pandemic, met with university academic leaders at a Provost's Council meeting yesterday. 

President Edward Montgomery asked Ruthford for his current assessment of their situation. Rutherford said that the KCHCS has been evaluating data and providing public health guidance based on current trends in the county, state and country. That they are applying the same methodology as they consult with WMU on their reopening plans.

“From a public health perspective, risk cannot be entirely eliminated,” Rutherford said. “So, we focus on reducing risk and providing practical ways to keep risk low. Our guidance is based upon the implementation of risk mitigation measures, which WMU has emphasized in its plan. These measures have proven to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Our health department staff continues to monitor relevant data and case studies, and we will continue to guide WMU based on the data and research as we move through the school year.”

The email also said that WMU also considered state and local information. Some data points that community members may find helpful include:

  • Since mid-June, Michigan’s test positivity rate has remained flat, while testing has steadily grown. Positivity rate is the percentage of all tests that are positive. Among its neighboring states, Michigan has the lowest positivity rate and the second-highest testing rate.

  • Kalamazoo County’s new-cases trend peaked in mid-July and has flattened with a slight downward trend since then.

  • The local number of hospitalizations is low with sufficient capacity for critical cases.

“We also have one of the most comprehensive plans in the state, with every department having a tailored return-to-work strategy,” the email reads. 

It mentioned that many employees will continue to work from home some or all of the time, and faculty and staff will meet in a variety of in-person, distance education and hybrid formats. 

Rapid testing that has been made barrier free for students, faculty members and staff is available through Sindecuse Health Center. 

“As we move forward, I will continue to monitor an array of data and continue to work closely with KCHCS,” the email reads.  It concludes stating:

“I am prepared to take actions necessary to manage spread, should it occur, while delivering our mission to the fullest extent our local situation allows. Our community can safely come back to campus if we remain vigilant and continue to follow the plans so many of us have worked hard to develop and that will promote safety in all settings. We will succeed if we work together; I invite you to join me."

Central Michigan University began operating in person earlier this month and has already had issues with students potentially spreading COVID-19.

One WMU resident assistant said that they expect WMU to face the same issue.

“It’s bullsh-t. We can’t let residents have guests, which makes sense, but we’re powerless if they go off campus [catch COVID-19] and bring it back. We have nothing to stop them from going to parties, and they’re already doing just that at CMU,” they said.

The resident assistant spoke with the Western Herald on the condition they remain anonymous. They claim that resident assistants have been instructed not to speak with media. Residents assistants have already moved into their halls for training.

President Montgomery's full email reads:

Dear campus community,

Recently, some universities have made headlines by choosing to move their fall courses online, as Michigan State University did late yesterday. While MSU is maintaining in-person instruction for graduate students as well as for those in its health, law and veterinary colleges and for those in lab, studio and performance-based classes, their decision has led to questions about whether our plans have changed.

Given that our focus is on the health and safety of our community, we have consistently made decisions based on practices recommended by health professionals, the data about conditions on our campus and in our area, and government regulations. We will continue to do so. As the pandemic is ever changing, we are prepared to, and will, adapt accordingly. Based on these factors, we are continuing to implement our Safe Return Plan.

Each day we are reviewing data and remain in continuous communication with the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department (KCHCS). Just yesterday, Health Officer Jim Rutherford, who is leading our community response to the pandemic, met with University academic leaders at a Provost's Council meeting.

I’ve asked for Mr. Rutherford’s current assessment of our situation. He says:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response, the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department has been carefully evaluating data and providing public health guidance based on current trends in our county, state and country. We are applying that same methodology as we consult with WMU on their reopening plans and support their plan to welcome Broncos to campus this fall.

From a public health perspective, risk cannot be entirely eliminated. So, we focus on reducing risk and providing practical ways to keep risk low. Our guidance is based upon the implementation of risk mitigation measures, which WMU has emphasized in its plan. These measures have proven to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Our health department staff continues to monitor relevant data and case studies, and we will continue to guide WMU based on the data and research as we move through the school year.

By diligently following the public health recommendations, not only while in school, but most importantly during social interactions outside of school, people are reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19. It takes all of us sharing the responsibility and adhering to all of the public health recommendations.

In addition to the guidance of health officials, we consider state and local information, such as local trends in new cases, state trends in new cases relative to testing and local hospital ICU capacity, to name a few. Yesterday I reviewed relevant data with cabinet members who are advising me on our response. Here are a few data points that you might find helpful:

  • Since mid-June, Michigan’s test positivity rate has remained flat, while testing has steadily grown. Positivity rate is the percentage of all tests that are positive. Among its neighboring states, Michigan has the lowest positivity rate and the second-highest testing rate.
  • Kalamazoo County’s new-cases trend peaked in mid-July and has flattened with a slight downward trend since then.
  • The local number of hospitalizations is low with sufficient capacity for critical cases.

We also have one of the most comprehensive plans in the state, with every department having a tailored return-to-work strategy. Many of our employees will continue to work from home some or all of the time, and faculty and staff will meet in a variety of in-person, distance education and hybrid formats. We also have available to us highly sophisticated, rapid testing that we’ve made barrier-free for students, faculty members and staff through Sindecuse Health Center. Testing is complemented by a thorough contact tracing program—capacity that most peer institutions do not have available on site.

As we move forward, I will continue to monitor an array of data and continue to work closely with KCHCS. I am prepared to take actions necessary to manage spread, should it occur, while delivering our mission to the fullest extent our local situation allows. Our community can safely come back to campus if we remain vigilant and continue to follow the plans so many of us have worked hard to develop and that will promote safety in all settings. We will succeed if we work together; I invite you to join me.

Sincerely,

Ed Montgomery

President

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