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Dear VCU students, faculty and staff,

I am looking forward to getting back together by this Fall.

The recent challenges we have faced together have been exceptional historically and extraordinary personally. They have given us strength and focus. Despite feelings of separation and frustration, we have adapted quickly and shown tremendous flexibility in carrying out our mission of education, research, creative innovation and human health.

Now, more than ever, we are ready to talk about the next steps in a safe return to campus. It is going to take all of us -- students, faculty and staff -- working together to make this happen.

There are more questions than answers, but this is what we know right now.

Following public health planning and proper safety protocols, I am committed to an in-person fall semester in which we are back together in our classrooms, laboratories, studios, and clinics on both campuses. The curve of the coronavirus in our society will determine our start date, and we are working on scenarios for an on-schedule or late start to the fall semester. The primary consideration for a start date is when it is safest to do so. Every day we have more information and we expect more clarity in the coming weeks.

We have been diligent in observing social distancing and other curtailments in Virginia, and the current evidence suggests that these measures have flattened the curve in the commonwealth, thereby contributing to a safer environment in which to consider on campus education. That said, it is clear that COVID-19 will be a constant presence in the foreseeable future. Like us, colleges throughout the country are embracing the new reality of maintaining our mission safely amidst the continued risks posed by COVID-19.

When we return, things will look and feel different as we take unprecedented but necessary steps to keep each other healthy and safe. I have charged task forces on our campuses with developing measures for our safe return. In all cases we would be guided by CDC, state and VCU Health guidance and generally include:

  • Physical distancing protocols and procedures for classrooms, student housing, dining halls, labs and studios, offices, libraries, large group indoor and outdoor events and other places where we gather in our daily lives on campus
  • Screening, testing and tracing protocols and procedures
  • Student and employee health support
  • Continued deep cleaning of all facilities
  • Return kits for students, faculty and staff that would include things like masks, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment and supplies

We also are pursuing more opportunities for remote teaching, learning, and working, including hybrid options, especially for members of our community who may have health and immunity issues that make them more vulnerable. This will give us much-needed flexibility to address expected waves during this pandemic and also give people more choices moving forward.

We are working very closely with our experts at VCU and the VCU Health System, who have been at the forefront of public health, rapid development and deployment of new diagnostics and testing, new care protocols and safety measures.

Our health system concurrently is planning a reactivation of its services for all patients who depend on us. In tandem, health sciences professional students -- nursing, medical, dental and allied health -- will return soon in a phased-in approach to clinical placements under careful screening and at selective learning settings. Our health system now has substantial experience in continuing to deliver care with safety practices and clinical innovations and is an integral part of the university’s planning for the safe reopening of our campuses.

This is a high-level look at what is involved in planning our safe return to campus. There are hundreds of details involved in each of these measures and considerations. Your input is very helpful as we plan for the return. I have asked the Provost and Vice President for Administration to convene a faculty/staff COVID-19 advisory group that includes members of the Faculty and Staff Senates and other university and health system experts to obtain and provide their input as we move forward.

Also, faculty and staff recently received an email inviting you to share your ideas and concerns in a brief survey, and I hope you participated. Students have been able to participate through the Climatext surveys. There will be more of these brief “pulse” surveys to gauge your feelings and concerns so we can address them in our planning.

Of course, we cannot know with certainty what the future holds. We all must remain flexible, anticipate and plan for changes, and act with the safety of our community as our first priority. We will communicate more specifics with students, their parents, faculty and staff as the summer proceeds.

We will get through this together, safely, as ONE VCU. Thank you all for your patience, courage, and commitment.

Sincerely,

Michael Rao, Ph.D.

President, VCU and the VCU Health System