June 24, 2020
Dear Carolina Students,
It is time for some real talk.
The other night, I spoke during our virtual town hall on the need to behave responsibly as we begin our next phase of bringing staff, faculty and students back to campus. All of us have seen the recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state, and many of you — particularly students and parents — are asking if it is safe to return to campus. The answer is yes, but we must drive the right behaviors from everyone to stay safe. Keeping students, faculty and staff safe and healthy is my number one responsibility.
There is risk in bringing students, faculty and staff back to campus; however, it is a manageable and acceptable risk when each of us does our part. How you behave now will impact the reopening of our campus. How you behave when you return to Columbia will impact our ability to remain together on campus. In other words, you may think that you can disregard expert medical advice now and be OK when you return to campus — that is just not the case. You might think that once you’re back on campus you can resume typical social behavior. This is also not the case.
Quite simply, I need everyone’s commitment to these public health best practices:
- Testing. Diagnostic testing is required for all students, faculty and staff returning to campus. This is not just to protect you; it is to protect your friends and those you care about. It is quick, simple and painless.
- Wearing a face covering. At a minimum, face coverings are required in all classrooms, the Thomas Cooper Library, Center for Health and Well-Being, fitness centers, Russell House and all dining facilities. As our medical experts have told us on numerous occasions, this is the number one measure in reducing the risk to others. The Columbia City Council just passed an ordinance to require face coverings in the city.
- Washing hands and personal hygiene. This is an essential behavior to fight infectious diseases, whether it is COVID, the flu or the common cold.
- Contact tracing. If you were to test positive for the virus, contact tracing would provide a ready data set on people you had been in close contact who might have been exposed to the virus. This helps ensure they don’t unknowingly spread the disease to others.
- Physical distancing. I know it is difficult to maintain physical distance, but we must adhere to the 6 ft. standard whenever possible. We must especially adhere to this in areas where we are most vulnerable to the risk of transmitting and contracting the virus. And that has proven to be in close social off-campus areas, like restaurants and bars, as well as within off-campus student residence apartments. It is in these high-risk areas where we are finding the greatest possibilities of transmitting the virus.
Following these basic steps will keep you safe, and our university open.
One initiative that supports our efforts to keep you safe is the #IPledgeColumbia campaign. #IPledgeColumbia is a cooperative partnership between the university and the City of Columbia that empowers students to do their part to keep the Columbia community safe. The last thing we want to do in the fall is suspend classes and send students home early, but this scenario is possible if we see a high number of cases on campus with a spread to the larger Columbia community. You will begin receiving materials as early as next week on the #IPledgeColumbia campaign, and I urge you to take this pledge seriously and encourage your friends to do the same. If you hold each other accountable, our infection numbers could stay low, and we will have a better chance of remaining together on campus. I want to thank Student Body President Issy Rushton, other Student Government leaders and the many volunteers who have worked hard to put the program in place.
It’s not enough to talk about doing what’s right; we must all commit fully to responsible behavior, now and when we’re back on campus together. The university can’t do it alone. Looking out for one another is a hallmark of being a Gamecock, and it counts now more than ever.
This fall will be unlike any other. I know that you can’t wait to return, but we must do so while keeping this campus and the local community we are a part of safe and healthy. As the president of this great institution, I look forward to having your energy back on campus. I want us all to have a great and memorable semester, but you must return with the full appreciation of our shared challenge of keeping each other and our community safe and healthy.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Forever to thee,