God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. …
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46: 1 & 11
Dear Calvin Seminary Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We look forward to the beginning of the new academic year with all of you! Whether you are on the Grand Rapids campus or coming in via technology, we look forward to welcoming each and everyone one of you. At Calvin Seminary, we commit to being a hospitable, learning community and this memorandum reflects our ongoing efforts to do so in the midst of a pandemic. We also do so knowing that we share a campus and resources with Calvin University and we are called to be a “good neighbor” to this local community as well.
In Michigan, as is the case in so many other states and provinces, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is contributing to a sharp increase in COVID cases. During the week of August 9, 2021, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a seven-day case average of 1,048 per day, up from 110 per day in late June. The state also estimates that the Delta variant is now responsible for 96% of all Michigan cases.
Also last week, Kent County’s level of disease transmission (the local government unit where Grand Rapids is located) increased from moderate to substantial, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission wear a face mask in indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status.
In light of this, our COVID mitigation strategies are being reviewed and will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. We also compare them to and often join what is also being done on the Calvin University campus.
As we prepare for in-person learning this fall, we are driven by several guiding principles, including a commitment to meet in person for the entire 2021-22 academic year, to design creative ways to live and have fun on campus, and to quickly adapt to our community health expectations as circumstances change.
We are determined to make every effort to contribute to the safety and health of our entire community—students, employees, families, and our surrounding community of Grand Rapids—while providing high-quality learning experiences. It is our goal to be a safe, healthy, hospitable learning community.
We want to especially commend the ongoing efforts of our faculty and staff to be ready to serve in-person as evidenced by the voluntary vaccination status that we can report from a recent survey:
- Percentage of faculty who responded to the survey: 88%
- Percentage of responding faculty members who are vaccinated: 100%
- Percentage of staff who responded to the survey: 92%
- Percentage of responding staff who are vaccinated: 94%
In light of our current situation noted above, we ask all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to buildings on campus to wear masks when indoors and in close proximity to others, such as in hallways, offices, classrooms and common spaces. This includes the temporary offices at 3300 Burton and the Youngsma Center, the Seminary building, and the buildings throughout the Calvin University campus. [See below for exceptions to these masking guidelines.]
This policy will take effect as of Monday, August 16, 2021. This is the only restriction we are implementing at this time.
In the words of Kent County Health Department Medical Director Nirali Bora: “A return to masking is an important recommendation that we should all try to follow. Outdoor spaces are going to be the safest for everyone as much as that’s possible. But indoors, workplaces — people just really need to be a little more vigilant and more cautious. I know things felt great in the summer for a little while, but we are going in a different direction right now.”
It is our hope to be able to relax masking requirements when we see evidence that the Kent County risk level has decreased to a reasonable level, vaccination rates of students are at a good level, and our campus case numbers remain low. In the meantime, the masking requirement will help us mitigate the increased risk of spread as we welcome Calvin Seminary community members back to campus from across the country and around the globe in the coming few weeks. We plan to monitor the campus environment through the first few weeks of the fall semester so that we can reevaluate our campus risk and update our approach accordingly.
The following are exceptions to the return to all-campus masking:
- anyone in a private office with the door closed (or at a workstation that is more than 6 feet from coworkers)
- students in their apartment. Please note that all students will still need to mask in common areas (basements, laundry rooms, etc.) within residential spaces
- those who are eating or drinking on campus in common areas
- anyone under the age of two
- those unable to remove a face covering without assistance
- anyone required to wear assigned respiratory protection for the job they are performing
- those who have been given a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
We are also looking at developing consistent policies as to the use of masks for Chapel speakers as well as those presenting in classrooms. The latter will be developed with the Academic Office.
We are encouraged by the fully vaccinated rates of our faculty and staff. The good news is that each of the current vaccines approved by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) has been scientifically shown to be incredibly effective at preventing severe infection, even against the Delta variant. So, we continue to encourage all members of the Calvin community to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
We are providing two options for members of our seminary community regarding vaccinations.
Vaccinated faculty and staff can provide their vaccination information (including date(s) and type of vaccine) to our HR Director, Karen DeYoung. Residential students can provide their vaccination information to the Student Life Office using a form that will be provided next week. All vaccination reporting will be kept confidential.
All residential students, faculty, and staff who do not provide their vaccination information will receive further instructions on how to indicate either a detailed plan to complete the COVID vaccination series or submit an “Acknowledgement of COVID Non-Vaccination" form (described under Option 2 below).
Option 2: Complete the “Acknowledgement of COVID Non-Vaccination" form no later than Monday, August 30.
Individuals who opt not to complete the COVID vaccine and provide information to the HR Director or Student Life Office must sign this form to document their reason(s) for declining the COVID vaccine. The person signing the form must also indicate agreement to weekly COVID testing in lieu of being vaccinated and acknowledgement of potential costs, which may be borne by the individual choosing Option 2. This form will be provided to the community during the week of August 16. (This process parallels what was recently developed at Calvin University, with whom we share such key resources as the campus, the dining hall, and the library.)
After the first week of classes, we will have weekly testing for anyone in our community who is not fully vaccinated. Details of this fall testing program are being finalized and will be communicated to all employees and students listed in our system as unvaccinated on or around August 23.
Students should note that, with the exception of those whose underlying medical conditions are prohibitive for vaccination, testing will be at the personal expense of the person who chooses Option 2, as would other potential costs related to COVID mitigation, including quarantine and food delivery. In the event of rising caseloads and positivity rates on campus, people who chose Option 2 may be asked to leave campus or be required to wear masks in indoor campus spaces even if the current mask mandate for all students and employees is lifted.
Please note that this ongoing testing of unvaccinated individuals is the recommendation of the Kent County Health Department.
Testing Reminder for Returning International Students/Travelers
Please note that fall surveillance testing for people who choose Option 2 is different from the testing that will happen for all international students as they come to campus for the start of the new academic year. This testing is part of the CDC guidelines for international travel, and testing can be done on campus or at various sites around Grand Rapids.
These refinements to existing processes have been made after long and arduous discussions about the pros and cons of various approaches, after much prayer, and with a clear eye on the best scientific and medical advice at our disposal. The decisions we have made and will make in the future are intended to help us as a community to fulfill our calling to be a safe, healthy, hospitable learning community.
This email contains a great deal of information and may spark additional questions. Please direct your inquiries to the co-chairs of the COVID-19 Response Team, COO Margaret Mwenda and Dean of Students Jeff Sajdak. Employees may also direct inquiries to HR Director Karen DeYoung.
There will be further information communicated to the Seminary community regarding these policies and the forms noted above. Look for this information in emails next week. We are grateful for all the efforts we have made together in the past 18 months to keep our community safe and healthy as we have learned together. We are grateful for all our efforts moving forward to ensure safety as we continue to learn together in person this year. May the Lord bless our community as we learn and serve together.
- Margaret Mwenda and Jeff Sajdak, co-chairs
On behalf of the Calvin Seminary COVID-19 Response Team
Carolyn De Neut