Published in The State newspaper, August 23, 2020
Three days ago, students returned to class at the University of South Carolina. A walk around our beautiful campus reveals our new reality – students, faculty and staff wearing face coverings; friends waving to each other from a distance; and COVID-19 testing taking place at our Student Health Center and other locations. As President of this historic institution, I could not be more excited to welcome back our campus community. I know that many of you in the Midlands community may have questions about our decision to fully open for the fall semester, and I appreciate your concern during this challenging time. Our plan to open is based on sound science and aggressive risk mitigation efforts. It is also a nimble plan, and we stand ready to alter it at any point if our public health environment changes.
We are prepared for the predictable cases that will occur when a community as large as ours comes back together. We know that cases will rise and fall over the semester, and we are confident in our capacity to deal with that reality on campus and in turn, ease the burden on hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the Midlands. Our focus is treating those impacted and limiting the spread to the greater community through sound public health practices and testing. Recently, UofSC broadened its testing capacity by receiving state and federal authorization for saliva testing, which significantly diminishes the wait time for test results. Thanks to our College of Pharmacy, Student Affairs team, COVID-19 planning group, and Nephron Pharmaceuticals for making this innovative test a reality for our university.
We know that in addition to staying safe on our campus, it is also the university’s responsibility to be a good partner with the greater Midlands community. We are working closely with local and state leaders, and I am grateful to Mayor Benjamin, City and County Councils, and Governor McMaster for their actions to establish a mask ordinance, social distancing mandates and 50% capacity limitations at restaurants/bars and the prohibition of house parties and other large gatherings. We are also collaborating with those who manage local apartments and area rental properties, where many of our students live.
There’s no doubt that our students play a significant role in risk mitigation. We have been sharing this message with them over the past six months and will continue to do so. We only have to look at other universities that have pivoted to online instruction to see the impact of irresponsible behaviors. As much as I want our campus community to stay together, we will not hesitate to move to full remote instruction if the public health risk reaches an unacceptable level. However, I believe in our students and in our commitment to do the right thing.
All of us at the University of South Carolina care deeply about the great state that we serve and call home. Working together, we will rise to meet this moment with strength, resilience and compassion.