Truly Grateful for This Effort
Dear Kent State University Students, Faculty and Staff,
One year ago today, at roughly 3 p.m., our community received a message from me announcing that face-to-face instruction would cease and remote instruction would begin several days later. The COVID-19 pandemic had come to Kent State.
We encouraged residential students to return to their homes. We canceled campus events or held them remotely, and we reduced the number of people in our buildings. On this date one year ago, we encouraged physical distancing and enhanced public health and hygiene measures. We reminded you that Flashes Take Care of Flashes and asked you to show care and compassion to those experiencing anxiety or fear.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 – in some ways it seems like yesterday and in other ways more like a hundred years ago. At this time last year, we didn’t understand much about how COVID-19 is transmitted. Members of the public argued over the effectiveness of wearing face coverings and whether the virus was even real. Obtaining a COVID-19 test was nearly impossible.
As I reflect on the past year, one phrase I have found myself saying often during the pandemic is: We are truly grateful for this effort and these successes … but what’s next? This phrase captures what for me has been the central dynamic of the pandemic: We move mountains and solve daunting challenges at warp speed, only to then be faced with more mountains to move and more challenges to overcome. Through it all, we are truly grateful for the work and dedication of our employees and for the patience and grit of our students.
After our faculty and Division of Information Technology staff heroically moved all courses to remote instruction – and did so in less than half the time of other universities in the state – we spent the summer making our facilities clean and safe. Plexiglass barriers were erected (enough plexiglass to span the 4-mile stretch from the Kent Campus to the Kent State Airport).
Physical distancing measures were enacted in our offices and classrooms. Our faculty leaders and the leadership in the Division of Academic Affairs worked together to successfully rethink many of our academic policies and our 2020 fall class schedule and academic calendar.
We are truly grateful for this effort and these successes … but what about COVID-19 testing? In the summer and early fall, COVID-19 tests were difficult to obtain. By September, we were administering only about 100 tests each week. Then our professionals in University Health Services worked wonders, so that by November, we were administering closer to 450 tests each week and hosting mass testing events on campus in cooperation with the Ohio National Guard.
University Health Services’ efforts intensified for the spring semester when we sent more than 2,700 at-home COVID-19 tests to residence hall students before they came back to campus. Those tests identified nearly 60 positive cases and allowed those students to recover at home before returning to the Kent Campus. In January, we tested every residence hall student arriving on campus and have continued to test them weekly, keeping our number of COVID-19 cases well below 1% of those tested. We also are randomly testing off-campus students enrolled in face-to-face courses and our employees. In addition, we installed machines to detect early COVID-19 spread in wastewater from the Kent Campus and from three large private housing complexes in Kent, which helps us identify virus spread early.
We are truly grateful for this effort and these successes … but what about vaccinations? One of the medical miracles of the pandemic has been the rapid development of effective vaccines against COVID-19. Yes, the vaccination rollout has been slower than we would hope, but as of today, nearly 10% of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated, and Kent State stands ready to host a mass vaccination event on our campus should public health officials request us to do so. We recently amended our Flashes Safe Seven safety principles to the Flashes Safe Eight to encourage everyone in our community to Flash Your Arm and get vaccinated when it is your turn.
We are truly grateful for this effort and these successes … but what about the fall semester? Recently, we communicated our belief that the fall semester will look more normal in terms of the number of face-to-face classes offered, based on the assumption that everyone in our community who wants to be vaccinated will have had the opportunity to do so before classes begin in August and on the assumption that the need for distancing and the use of face coverings will continue. Residence hall occupancy levels will largely return to pre-pandemic levels, and noticeably more in-person cocurricular activities will be available for students.
We are truly grateful for this effort and these successes … but what should we do for the rest of this semester? We ask that everyone stay safe. Continue to practice physical distancing and always, always wear a face covering. The pandemic isn’t over yet! Keep practicing the Flashes Safe Eight and get a vaccine as soon as you can.
On this date one year ago, during the confusing and worrisome early days of the pandemic, I told all of you that I appreciated everyone’s “understanding and continued cooperation during these challenging times.” So much has changed in one eventful year. We now have renewed hope for a return to normalcy, and we’ve proven our resiliency, community spirit and Flashes Take Care of Flashes commitment.
Let’s celebrate all we have done, all we have learned and all we will accomplish going forward by recommitting ourselves to staying safe for the remainder of this semester. The efforts of all of you have made us a better, stronger community over the past year, and you make us proud to call ourselves Golden Flashes.