Special Campus Memo: Plans to Build Testing Capacity for Fall 2020

May 22, 2020

COVID-19: Meeting the Challenge

Plans to Build Testing Capacity for Fall 2020

 
Dear Grinnellians,
 
Like most colleges and universities across the country, we are carefully considering what living and learning at Grinnell looks like in a world dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic. As we assess public health guidelines and work through important issues to determine how best to provide a full liberal arts educational experience, we are focused on creating as safe an environment as possible. To do this, we are using the best tools, knowledge, and public health guidance we have available to us, while remaining flexible and prepared to adapt as new information and technology becomes available.
 
Among the public health and safety criteria we are evaluating as we work toward the potential for providing an on-campus experience, we see testing, social distancing, contact tracing, selective isolation of students who test positive for COVID-19, extensive use of PPE, and a program of increased cleaning of our facilities as essential components of a comprehensive system of virus monitoring and outbreak prevention. 
 
Today, as we continue to finalize our plans for academic year 2020-21 classes, we took a significant step toward reopening our campus at some level when the College signed a contract with a private testing firm that guarantees capacity for initial and regularized diagnostic (PCR) COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, and staff who will be on campus. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing the College will use is considered the gold standard of PCR tests currently available, as it provides an indication of the presence of the coronavirus by looking directly for its genetic material. Such tests can determine if someone is carrying the virus whether or not symptoms are present. We are exploring working with public health experts to determine the parameters and periodicity of testing.
 
The College's testing partner, Tempus, works with 80 of the 100 largest hospitals in the United States, including many teaching hospitals affiliated with colleges and universities. The company also is working with academic medical centers and regulatory agencies on a variety of COVID-19 research initiatives to help understand the clinical and molecular drivers of the virus. College staff will work closely with Tempus to ensure confidentiality and security of all testing results.
 
We consider this service to be critical to Grinnell's academic and campus operations, at least until such time as an effective treatment or a vaccine is available. As such, testing costs will be covered by the College's reserve funds set aside to mitigate risk and address crises. There will be no direct cost to students, faculty, or staff for tests administered. 
 
Having secured this testing ability, our planning groups can now more accurately work to figure out options for students to be on campus, while reserving space for students who test positive. As we work to build an academic experience within public health parameters for faculty, staff, and students in the next academic year, all students who will be on campus will be required to undergo initial and routine testing and to release the results to Grinnell. Positive test results will automatically be sent to the Iowa Department of Public Health. 
 
We know that students and their families are anxious to hear more details about testing and all aspects of the College's fall 2020 planning. We appreciate all of the questions and feedback we receive from our community, and the on-going planning work of faculty, staff, and administration. We look forward to an early-June announcement and to creating opportunity for Q&A sessions afterwards. In addition, we are working on arrangements for scheduling faculty and staff, and parent and student forums after the Memorial Day holiday to provide additional updates and information sharing opportunities. Session details will be sent separately.
 
We are grateful for all those who are working tirelessly to help us evaluate, plan for, and enact the complex steps needed to ensure that we address our number one priority of keeping our students, faculty, and staff as protected and healthy as possible. We are also grateful for your patience and feedback as we work through the many remaining unknowns and consider a multitude of factors to promote everyone's safety and wellbeing while still providing one of the best liberal arts educational experiences available anywhere. Our goal is to share an initial decision about the fall following the Board of Trustees meeting in early June. We are cognizant, however, that the situation continues to evolve. As such, we will stay in regular contact with you throughout the summer and into the fall.
 
Thank you for your continued support.
 
Raynard S. Kington, President
Anne F. Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College

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