As the COVID-19 situation continually evolves, we want to provide you another update about university operations. I know how difficult it is to plan in this time of uncertainty, and I hope that this will help provide some clarity for students and their families before Spring Break.
Last night, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed their guidance and is now recommending that organizations forgo group gatherings of more than 50 people for at least another eight weeks. In addition, the White House announced guidance this afternoon advising that individuals avoid gatherings of more than ten (10) people. While we do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the St. Thomas community as of this writing, the situation is changing rapidly, and we want to prepare our campus for the next phase of response.
Online Classes to Continue
Our academic offerings will continue to operate fully online for the remainder of the semester. This was a difficult decision, as we had hoped to bring our community back together in person after April 14. However, in light of the rapidly changing situation, it is increasingly unlikely that returning after April 14 will be possible. In this very uncertain time, we want to provide as much certainty as possible, so we have made the decision now to continue on-line courses for the remainder of the semester. Students involved in off-campus work for credit will be provided guidance from their deans.
Because classes will be on-line for the remainder of the semester, we encourage students to leave the residence halls as early as is feasible for them, before traveling out of the region for Spring Break, and by March 29. Students will be hearing shortly from Residence Life about the move-out process.
We understand that there are students who cannot leave. For those students, including international students, there will be accommodations available on campus. While we cannot guarantee that you will stay in your current room, residence hall rooms will be available. If you need to stay in the residence halls, you must fill out an application to stay, which will be available from Residence Life. New rules will be put in place to require appropriate social distancing for those who stay in the halls.
The deadline to apply for a second semester refund for room and board was Sunday, March 15. We are extending this deadline to March 29 for refunds for room and board and waiving the $500 cancellation fee. Our refund policy will apply, which is 20 percent of your room cost and 20 percent of your unused board. Students will have the option of receiving this amount as a refund or asking that it be held as a credit on their student account. Information will be forthcoming from Residence Life about the process for requesting the refund or credit. I hope this refund will provide some relief to students and families.
Students Living Off-Campus
Students living off campus need to be very careful about their living situation. You have the responsibility to practice social distancing in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please know that young people are carriers of the virus, and we expect you to change your behaviors to help our community prevent the spread to those who are more vulnerable. This means avoiding gatherings, hand washing, regular cleaning, constant self-monitoring and self-isolation when necessary.
Facilities and Services
While we are not closing the University, there will be limited hours across campus and some building closures. Food service will be more limited, evolving as necessary. You can expect updated information about closures and reduced hours on OneStthomas, as well as on the Center for Well-Being website.
Health Care and Remote Working for Employees
More guidance is coming for employees soon from Human Resources. This includes information about changes to our health plan and coverage for COVID-19 tests and treatment. You should be working with your manager today to determine how social distancing and/or working remotely will happen in your unit. Some units will stagger employees who work on campus. Some units may need employees on campus but will enforce social distancing expectations and take other safety measures to protect employees and the community.
I want to remind everyone how incredibly important it is that we be sensitive to one another throughout this challenging and uncertain time. This is an opportunity to show our best selves. Please be sensitive to the fears and anxieties of others as you interact with them. Also, please be reminded that we must never turn our fears toward individuals or groups based on race, country of origin, or other factors.
I am confident that we will emerge from this crisis as a stronger community. The bonds that we forge today in coping with this crisis and the skills we are acquiring as we operate in different modes will serve us as a community in the future.
I am grateful to every member of the St. Thomas community, and you remain in my prayers.