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A note from the Provost: First day of class guidance for faculty and staff

Dear Colleagues,

The first day of classes has arrived. However, I know that this year’s campus return carries much different emotions for most of you than those of years past.

In recent weeks, our office has developed guidance for faculty regarding classroom teaching these fall and spring semesters, and classroom seating charts to help with the university’s contact tracing. President Pastides announced incentives for our campus community to promote vaccinations and outlined required monthly testing for faculty, staff and students. And, just last night, he announced a policy requiring face coverings when inside any campus building.

It is a lot of information that has come at many different times, through many different channels. And, in a year as challenging as this, I want to make sharing this information with your students as easy as possible. So, as we all work to ensure a safe learning environment on campus, here are university details relating to face coverings, vaccines, testing and more; as well as some thoughts on how to present this information to students on the first day of classes.

1.      Wear face coverings to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Face coverings have been proven effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a face covering helps reduce the spread of respiratory droplets into the air when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks and reduces the inhalation of these droplets by the mask wearer. The wearing of face coverings are required in all UofSC buildings to protect yourself and others, unless you are in your own residence hall room, private office or you are eating inside campus dining facilities. There may be circumstances where distance or barriers allow faculty members to not wear a face covering in the classroom setting (see “Guidance on face coverings in classroom”) — if so, faculty should explain why they are unmasked to their students.

Discussion points you may wish to include:

“We require that all students wear their face coverings in the classroom, as the university recently approved a face coverings requirement in all buildings — just like we did last spring. On top of that, I will be wearing a face covering during class and in-person office hours because…” Faculty are then welcome to offer personal reasons for their wearing face coverings, such as living with children who are not able to be vaccinated, or with an immunocompromised individual, if they would like.

2.     The university strongly encourages you to get vaccinated to protect both yourself and others from COVID.

University Health Services (UHS) offers free walk-in vaccine clinics at the Center for Health and Well-Being from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday-Friday. UHS offers the Moderna (2 dose) and the Johnson & Johnson (1 dose) vaccines. Students who are interested can make appointments online though MyHealthSpace or by calling 803-544-7468. Additionally, they can access the vaccine through any community vaccination site by visiting the DHEC COVID vaccine website and making an appointment at locations across the state.

Discussion points you may wish to include:

“According to DHEC, vaccines are both an effective and critical tool in bringing the pandemic to an end, especially in South Carolina where we have a low overall vaccination rate. In the university’s efforts to increase vaccination rates across its campus body, it is providing incentives promoting vaccination. If students — or any campus community member — gets vaccinated and uploads their vaccine card to MyHealthSpace, they will be eligible for weekly prizes. Some of these prizes include: half tuition covered, football tickets, $500 bookstore gift cards, airpods, and more.”

3.     Monthly testing will be required of all campus community members.

Students will receive a notification email the week that they are scheduled for mandatory COVID-19 testing, and they will have seven days to participate in on-campus testing or to submit documentation of outside testing to be compliant. Nasal tests, saliva tests and antigen/rapid tests are all acceptable forms of testing.

Discussion points you may wish to include:

“There is monthly testing for the entire campus community, and students will be alerted by email when it is their week to test. Once they have received their email, they can check the coronavirus testing schedule and go to places like the Russell House Underground to receive their test. Or, they can go to any off-campus testing location and upload the results of their test to MyHealthSpace.”

4.     If you are sick, get tested and stay home.

If students are experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms, like fever, cough or shortness of breath, they should go to MyHealthSpace and make a telemedicine appointment to be evaluated. The university has a plan in place to care for students who test positive for COVID-19 and for students who have been exposed. And, if any faculty, staff or student has a COVID-19 or vaccine question, please call the Coronavirus Phone Bank at 803-576-8511. Monday - Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Discussion points you may wish to include:

“If students are sick, they should not come to class. But, to ensure that their absence is documented as an excused absence, the student needs to take a COVID-19 test. If their test is conducted off-campus, they should upload the results to MyHealthSpace."

Thank you for your patience with me, President Pastides, and the rest of administration as we do our best to promote safety throughout our campus community. The feedback we have received from all our faculty and staff has been instrumental in developing our mitigation plans; however, we understand that there is still work to be done. And, as the situation continues evolving, we will continue taking the steps necessary to promote a safe learning environment here at UofSC. As a reminder, the most up-to-date information regarding our university’s COVID response can be found on our university’s Coronavirus webpage.

As a last piece of parting advice, I recommend this: Among our 34,700 students, there will be different thoughts relating to what is occurring in the world around us and many students may even disagree with the guidance provided above. And while we expect them to follow our university’s guidelines, there is one message that I know is universally needed and should be universally accepted.

We will persevere.

The last year has been hard. The start of the semester is hard. And every day seems to bring a new challenge. However, in the face of all of this, I know we will get through this together, and that this semester will be a success. If there is one thing that you share with students from this message, please consider sharing that.

Thank you.

Stephen Cutler
Interim Provost, University of South Carolina

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.