Grinnell College Rises to Meet Challenges in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

February 22, 2021

This story originally appeared in the Grinnell Herald Register on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021

Grinnell’s commitment to social responsibility is a call to action in which decisions are made with others in mind. College leadership and the Board of Trustees have approached every decision since the pandemic began using a community and public health framework that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and community.

A few weeks ago, Grinnell welcomed nearly 300 first-year students to campus for Spring Term 1 which began on Feb. 1. Many of the College's functions remain remote, including teaching and learning and most administrative work. The College continues to assess community health conditions on an ongoing basis to determine how to continue fulfilling the College’s mission as safely as possible.

“I am inspired everyday by the grace, ingenuity and resilience Grinnellians have displayed during these past 11 months. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need to take care of not only ourselves but those around us by sustaining public health guidelines and expectations to preserve the health and safety of our community,” said Anne Harris, Grinnell College president.

Campus Activity Levels

The established campus activity level system provides overall guidance for life and work at Grinnell based on community health conditions. Each level provides information about a range of topics, including personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols; class formats (in person, online or a combination); meeting formats (in person or online); and travel and visitor policies. You can find more information about what each level means at Campus Activity Levels.

Many of the College’s departments that maintain day-to-day operations such as dining, campus safety and facilities management have developed new safety protocols and processes to help protect the health of employees and students. Some of the current protocols include grab and go meals in the dining hall and enhanced cleaning procedures in shared spaces on campus.

Currently, the Grinnell College Museum is open to students, faculty and staff by appointment. While the museum looks forward to welcoming the community back in person, at this time there are several opportunities to explore collections and to interact with works of art virtually at Grinnell College Museum of Art.

The Grinnell College Golf Course has outlined some operational changes for the 2021 season that are based upon the Campus Activity Level. The golf operation will be run out of the Pro Shop on the lower level of the clubhouse; golf tee times and tournaments will be subject to the current campus activity level. The pool will be closed for the 2021 season. Additional information and updates can be found at Grinnell College Golf Course

Commitment to Community Health

The College holds in deep regard that community health means protecting the health of the many people in our community: students, staff, faculty, and the broader Grinnell community that the College calls home. The GrinnWell Together Commitment frames the expectations for students on campus. Similar measures are outlined in the Employee Commitment to Personal and Collective Health agreement and are based on the current understanding of the transmission and prevention of COVID-19. The expectations within both agreements have evolved and been adapted as the College continues to respond to the changing COVID-19 landscape.

“Our community has been incredibly responsive in following pandemic precautions and that is reflective in the low COVID-19 positivity rate on campus within our testing program. We have worked hard to put the health and safety of the faculty, staff, students and greater Grinnell community first by implementing a number of public health protocols campus-wide,” said Heather Cox, director of emergency management and risk mitigation.

On Campus Testing Program

Approximately 600 students who live on and off campus and 400 faculty and staff are being tested each week in the College’s testing program. This robust on-campus program plays a pivotal role in the overall effort to maintain community health. The campus testing program results are sent out in a weekly email to faculty, staff and students and posted publicly to the College’s Meeting the Challenge webpage.

“Thank you to our Student Health and Wellness team for their work in establishing and facilitating the campus testing program as it is a crucial component of our sustained pandemic response and community health planning,” shared Cox.

COVID-19 Dashboard

Last summer the college launched a publicly available dashboard that aggregates local, regional and state data related to COVID-19. As a teaching and research institution, the College is committed to sharing knowledge for the common good. Grinnell’s dashboard has received national recognition and has earned an ‘A’ grade along with only 35 other colleges and universities nationally. The dashboard is just one tool in a larger decision-making context for Grinnell College and can be accessed on the Grinnell website at Covid Dashboard.

Spring Term 2

In April, the College plans to welcome more students to campus, with roughly 500 students living on campus and 250 students living off campus for Spring Term 2. As planning continues, the College will monitor community health conditions on campus, in town, and in the region. Community members are encouraged to visit Meeting the Challenge for up-to-date information on the College’s pandemic response and changes on campus.

“In what will forever be a defining moment in each of our lives, I am very proud to be a part of a community who rose to meet unprecedented challenges and changes together in this pandemic. The distribution of vaccines now brings renewed hope for the future,” said Harris.

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