January 10, 2021
Dear Columbia Residents,
Tomorrow, students from the University of South Carolina will return to class in a new year marked by resilience, patience and hope. As president of the state’s flagship university, I am proud of the character our university community displayed as we rose to meet the challenges of a year unlike any other.
We responded to the unexpected with innovative solutions created by our own public health experts and researchers, such as the saliva test and wastewater monitoring. We implemented a comprehensive testing plan, resulting in more than 70,000 completed COVID-19 tests in the fall semester. Student leaders launched the I Pledge Columbia campaign, encouraging our students and our local community to follow public health practices such as wearing face coverings, washing hands and maintaining physical distancing. In partnership with state, county and city law enforcement, we responded to at-risk behavior and held appropriate persons accountable. We also partnered with the Department of Health and Environmental Control, Governor McMaster and the surgeon general to bring a COVID-19 mobile testing unit to Columbia.
We went to class, conducted research, opened new classrooms and labs, and formed new partnerships. Together, we delivered on our academic and research mission while keeping campus open and ensuring the safety, health and well-being of our community.
This spring, we are more resolved than ever to protect the health and welfare of our people, limit the spread of the virus in our community and maintain excellence in our academic, research and athletic efforts. As our university community comes together again, we are prepared for the predictable cases that will occur and the fluctuation throughout the semester. Our plan is based on sound science and risk mitigation efforts and includes a new, mandatory testing plan for those who will be on campus this spring. We also remain committed to addressing at-risk behavior and holding accountable those in violation of university and community ordinances.
The University of South Carolina is also proud to serve as a designated site to administer the COVID-19 vaccines, and we are prepared to implement an administration plan based upon the recommendations of the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the guidance of the CDC and SCDHEC. We are confident in this plan and its capacity to treat those impacted and limit the spread to the greater community. As always, we stand ready to alter our plan at any moment when changes in the environment require us to do so.
We have learned many lessons since last March, but perhaps none so important as the strength and value of our community. I’ve been inspired by the way our community has worked together to combat COVID-19 – from our students to our faculty and staff members, our public health experts, our local, city and state partners, and each of you. In these efforts, I remain grateful to Mayor Benjamin, our city and county councils, and Governor McMaster for their leadership and partnership this past year. We are also grateful for the tireless service of our public health and medical professionals who protect the health, safety and well-being of our community.
At the University of South Carolina, and across our state, nation and world, the story of COVID-19 is far from over. As we prepare for the unknown ahead, let us come together and renew our commitments to health, to hope and to each other.