Dear Monmouth University Community:
As we near the end of our temporary two-week shift to remote instruction, I am encouraged by the significant decline in active COVID-19 cases on campus. Since reaching a peak of 193 active cases on Oct. 6, we have effectively halved the number to 96 active cases, resulting in a corresponding reduction in the number of students in isolation, and decreasing the number of students in quarantine from 274 on Oct. 5 to 82 today.
The two-week move to remote instruction was necessitated by the dramatic increase in case activity that our campus community experienced earlier this month. This pause was designed to settle the campus, and to provide us with an opportunity to weigh all possible scenarios in making a final determination on next steps for the fall semester. To that end, we have spent the week engaged in long and thoughtful discussions with New Jersey and Monmouth County public health officials, as well as key constituencies at the University, including student, faculty, staff, and Board leadership. Based on the recommendation of the Crisis Management Team, I have decided to resume course offerings to their original format at the start of the fall semester, thereby restarting in-person and hybrid instruction at this time. As you know, all academic programming will resume on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
While I fully recognize that not everyone will agree with this decision, we have determined that this is a reasonable and safe course of action, particularly because extensive contact tracing efforts have not shown evidence of intergenerational transmission among our University community. Additionally, because the majority (nearly 80%) of academic instruction is being delivered remotely this fall, a return to in-person and hybrid instruction represents a minimal change in physical density on our campuses.
Our return to in-person instruction does not mean that we may be any less vigilant or relax our enhanced safety protocols. Rather, the return to in-person and hybrid instruction places increased scrutiny on our behaviors outside the classroom. We know that the overwhelming majority of positive COVID-19 cases within our community can be traced to social gatherings where masks are not being worn and social distancing is not being maintained. As the University learns about these types of situations which put others at risk, appropriate intervention will follow. I cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of continued compliance with Monmouth University COVID-19 protocols and State of New Jersey health and safety measures to effectively protect the Monmouth University and surrounding communities.
In anticipation of your cooperation, I have modified some of the temporary changes to campus operations below. All of these protocols remain in full compliance with our original fall reopening plans and the State’s safety guidelines. These changes will go into effect Wednesday, Oct. 21.
- Social Interactions. Social interactions – on and off campus – are still limited to 5 or fewer people. We will revisit this number in the weeks to come. If these interactions take place indoors, wearing masks and social distancing must be maintained. Visitation restrictions regarding residence halls remain in effect. We expect full compliance from our students living both in University housing on campus, and in off-campus housing.
- Dining. Limited indoor dining will resume, at 25% capacity, compliant with State guidelines. Masks are required at all times, except when eating, and social distancing must be maintained. Takeout and socially distanced outdoor seating will continue to be available.
- Pool and Fitness Center. The pool and fitness center will reopen, subject to mandatory health and safety protocols and previously prescribed restrictions on capacity.
- Student Activities. Clubs, organizations, and intramural/recreational activities will continue to be conducted virtually. We will revisit the restriction on these in-person activities in the coming weeks.
- Athletics Activities. University athletic team activities may resume – including formal practices, and individual and small group training – provided all activities are supervised by athletics staff.
- Visitors. The University campus will reopen to registered visitors only, including prospective students and families.
Over the past two weeks, we have enhanced both our testing and contact tracing efforts. With support from the State of New Jersey Department of Health, the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission, and the Monmouth County Health Department, we have increased our testing capacity and can now provide free testing to students and employees. Members of the Monmouth University community can be tested Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with no appointment needed at the tented outdoor test center adjacent to the Health Center. All tests are being sent to the state lab, which reports a 24-48 hour test turnaround time. Priority testing will be available for those students and staff who will be returning to campus for in-person classes and work next week. And, for the continued health and safety of the campus community, we will resume random surveillance testing in our residence halls and university apartments on a required basis.
With Fall Break around the corner, residential students are strongly encouraged to remain on campus, and we urge all students – residential and non-residential – to limit their trips to essential travel only and to adhere to New Jersey state travel and quarantine guidelines. Please use this important time to rest, relax, and restore your energy for the remainder of the semester. Additional activities and programming have been scheduled so check the Experience Monmouth app for exciting, virtual events in which to participate. As promised, I will provide a firm decision on plans for Thanksgiving break and the portion of the semester that follows by Nov. 1.
As we prepare to resume in-person and hybrid instruction on Oct. 21., please remember that social distancing – of at least 6 feet – is required in all campus spaces, and masks must be worn at all times, both indoors and outdoors, except when eating or when in your private residence hall room or private office. I am confident that we can continue to enjoy a safe and healthy fall semester on campus if we remember to continually back up, mask up, and wash up!
You may access the most current and comprehensive campus information, including daily dashboard data, by visiting our COVID-19 website. As always, questions may be directed to FallRestart@monmouth.edu. While our current case activity is trending in the right direction, we are at a crucial juncture and need 100% cooperation from each of you in order to complete our fall semester safely and productively. If cases begin to surge again, we will have little choice but to switch back to 100% remote instruction and send all residential students home for the remainder of the semester. How we finish the semester is up to all of us!
Thank you in advance for your efforts. I will be in touch again soon with additional updates.
Dr. Patrick F. Leahy