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MOMENTUM
A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - January 2022
Provost Jay Akridge

By Mary Jane Chew

A Message from Jay

* Note: This is a reshare from 1/24/2022

Dear Colleagues,

I know your year is already in full swing, but do hope you had a restful winter recess.  First, my deepest thanks for your role in helping us launch our Spring 2022 semester successfully.  Despite Omicron, and because of your good work, our residential learning, research, and engagement programs are moving forward as “normally” as this virus will allow.  Again, my thanks.

That said, with Omicron still surging in Indiana, we know these next several weeks of the Spring semester will continue to challenge us.  Based on everything our medical experts have shared and our own data to date, we know that Omicron is not as serious as prior variants for healthy, vaccinated people, but it is far more contagious.  Given this, while the risks of serious health issues for our campus are likely lower, the risks of disruptions created by large numbers of positive cases are higher – disruptions in the classroom, with research programs, and for engagement activities on campus and around our state, in addition to other university operations.

We also are well aware that Omicron is creating difficult personal challenges for many of you. You or a family member may have contracted Omicron. You may need to quarantine because of a high-risk exposure. Some of you are facing childcare challenges as local schools and daycare facilities modify their schedules or close in response to Omicron. And there may be other difficult and personal virus-related issues that you are trying to navigate.  While we will continue with our in-person residential instruction this spring, we understand there will be some situations where you have isolation/quarantine, childcare, or other personal challenges that may require your courses to move temporarily online.

As we have stated before, if you need to isolate or quarantine, you are empowered to make the temporary course adjustments that make the most sense for your students, your courses, and yourselves during your isolation/quarantine period.  If you have other situations/challenges beyond a standard isolation/quarantine time period that impact your ability to be on campus, please talk with your Department Head about appropriate accommodations.  Jenna Rickus, vice provost for teaching and learning, has communicated these guidelines in her weekly web letters, but if you have questions/situations you need assistance with, please let us know.

Of course, our students are working through their own Omicron challenges, and we ask that you continue to be as accommodating as possible when they need to be absent from class.  (As an aside, our Protect Purdue team still sees zero evidence of transmission of Omicron in the classroom, where, as you know, individuals are highly vaccinated and masked.) 

Beyond instruction, we should all be prudent with meetings over the coming weeks, moving things online where it makes sense to do so and making accommodations wherever possible for those who must be remote and can’t participate in an in-person meeting.  Our Medical Advisory Team has cautioned us to be especially careful with meal functions – just avoid these if you can and take precautions to social distance when you cannot. 

We will continue to communicate the actions we are taking through Protect Purdue to keep the campus safe and open for the Spring semester:  We are promoting vaccination/boosters, conducting symptomatic and surveillance testing, and implementing our aggressive track and trace protocols.  Following the latest guidance from the CDC, the American College Health Association (ACHA), and our partner One to One Health, we have modified our surveillance testing regime to concentrate testing on specific locations (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) where case numbers might be growing.  We have purchased 20,000 KN-95 masks that are being distributed to students, faculty and staff, and are again requiring masks in the Co-Rec.  A large supply of at-home COVID-19 test kits are on order.  A PUSH mini-clinic has been set up at the Co-Rec to treat any student who tests positive for influenza A or B.  Ten additional technicians have been hired to staff the Co-Rec testing center and the physical space in the testing center has been expanded to allow more room for waiting and social distancing.  We have set up a drive-thru testing clinic for families.  And we have upgraded Protect Purdue signage across the campus.  As always, we will be reviewing our data and the local conditions and will modify our approaches as needed.

As a reminder, the Returning to Work on Campus webpage includes guides for both employees and supervisors that outline important support resources.  Information on work-life integration and behavioral health tools is available, including family and childcare resources that will assist in the search for affordable caregivers, and mental health resources, such as the SupportLinc employee assistance program, available to benefits-eligible employees.  We encourage you to explore these campus support resources available to you and to take full advantage of them as needed.

Our medical experts anticipate that we will continue to experience challenging conditions into February.  This period is going to demand flexibility, creativity, patience, calm, grace and kindness from all of us – again.  We know that many of you – our faculty and staff – are anxious, worried, stressed and tired.  Again, my thanks for all you will do to protect yourself, protect others and protect our Purdue community at this difficult time.  This University – each of you – has stepped up since day one of the pandemic, finding the right path to keep the people of Purdue safe, and our campus in operation.  I have every confidence we will do so again as we work through the challenges that Omicron brings.

With optimism and gratitude,

Jay Akridge