Letter from President Pollard - August 9

Dear JBU Students and Parents,

Greetings from JBU’s campus, where student leaders have slowly been trickling back and new students will begin arriving Tuesday. I want to send you a quick note about the current spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas and on campus, a summary of our efforts to respond, our request for your preparation to join us this semester and a request for your prayers.

As you may know, there is community spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas, and the rolling seven-day positivity rate has held pretty steady at 10-12% for the last three weeks. As of last week, we have had 12 positive cases for employees on campus — four are current, and eight have recovered. We have seven employees in quarantine due to exposure; some of these exposures have been outside the workplace. We have also had one positive case among students who have been living here on campus this summer, and six other students are currently in quarantine. These cases have helped us “stress test” our response, and it has gone well. We do expect that we will have ongoing cases among students and employees on campus throughout the semester, and we will work diligently to manage those cases so that we can remain on campus — our version of flattening the curve. We will post information about cases with weekly updates on our website.

We did receive very good news last week. Community Physicians Group (CPG), who has their main clinic about six blocks away and a satellite clinic on campus, has acquired an Abbott Rapid Testing machine (less than an hour turnaround), and they have 2,400 test kits, which should help us identify and isolate sick students quicker. They expect to be operational in a week.

Here are some of the other steps that we have taken to prepare:

Classrooms: 97% of JBU’s classrooms have six-foot distancing, and we will use non-medical grade PPE in the other 3% (mainly science and nursing labs). Almost every large space on campus is a classroom, including the Cathedral, Mayfield basement, and the Soderquist Board Room.

Dining Facilities: We have six-foot distancing in Kresge, Simmons B and Walker Student Center, and we have two tents in the quad for dining with six-foot distancing. We have 400 seats available in these locations. We will have our normal inside dining as well as an option to order ahead and “grab-and-go.” We have established traffic flows and signage to maintain physical distancing while students get their food.

Chapel: We have constructed a stage on the quad to hold worship outside on Sunday evenings, and we have marked the quad to make it easier to maintain physical distancing. We will have a small group version of chapel on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Technology: We have purchased 58 OWL cameras (360-degree cameras that connect to Zoom and follow each speaker’s voice) so that students in isolation or quarantine can continue to be “in” their classroom and participate in the lecture/discussion. We have also set up five mobile classroom units for larger spaces that we don’t typically use for classrooms (i.e. the Mayfield basement). We have acquired 93 personal amplifiers so we can make sure that students hear faculty as they speak with a mask.

Sanitation: We have hand sanitizer stations outside every classroom door and will provide sanitizing wipes so that students can clean their hands and desk before class. We have also acquired seven high-capacity electrostatic sprayers for quickly cleaning bathrooms and large dining spaces.

Masks and Physical Distancing: We are requiring masks for everyone at all times inside buildings except when eating in dining spaces, when in a room with a roommate in residence halls or apartments/townhouses, or when in an office alone with the door closed. If you can’t maintain a six-foot distance between others, we are requiring masks outside.

Self-screening: We have asked all students, staff, and faculty to self-screen every day for COVID-19 symptoms, including completing a temperature check.

Isolation and quarantining: We have asked students who get sick or who are exposed to a person who gets sick to consider going home, if possible, for isolation or quarantine because it will increase our capacity to continue face-to-face education. We have reserved 100 beds on campus for isolation and quarantine, which is about 10% of our bed capacity.

Communication: We have sent about 30 widely distributed emails, hosted 10 external Town Hall and Instagram live sessions, made 350 social media posts, created an FAQ of some 10,000 words, created dozens of new signs, and answered over 150 different questions to communicate with the JBU community.

I am immensely proud of the work JBU faculty and staff have done to prepare for the fall. I think that we have done everything within the scope of our knowledge and resources to get the campus ready for your return, but I am also enough of a realist to know that it will not be enough to keep us on campus all semester without everyone’s help, including students. In particular, I would ask students to take these simple steps:

Wear your mask. Wear a close-fitting mask. It’s required almost everywhere. You can take it off outdoors if six feet apart; while eating (also 6 feet apart); in your dorm room if it’s just you and your roommate and the door is closed; in the shower; and while using the sink to wash your face or brush your teeth.

Physically Distance. Maintain 6 feet distance from others. We know it’s hard, but it helps protect us all.

Self-Screen Daily. Self-screen every morning. Take your temperature before you leave your room. If you have a fever over 100, stay put and inform your RA or Health Services (479-524-1621). Assess for other COVID symptoms.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and water whenever possible and use the available sanitizer often.

Set the Standard. Encourage each other to follow the guidelines with grace. We all want to stay well and out of isolation or quarantine. 

As a follower of Christ, I also know that God’s mercy and protection of JBU’s campus is more important than any of our preparations. We ask for you to pray with us for that protection, for wisdom as we make decisions, for patience as we confront frustrations, and for joy as we begin again the wonderful work of learning together about God and the world that he has made.

All God’s blessings, 

Dr. Charles W. Pollard

President, John Brown University