Due to lower case rates and positivity rates in Osceola County and Knox County, on October 25 the Johnson University Florida campus moved to “mask-optional” and on November 8 the Tennessee campus did the same.
Faculty who have health concerns or family members with health issues may continue to require students to wear masks in their classrooms and when visiting their offices. In addition, faculty, staff, and students may choose to wear masks while working, attending meetings or classes, or participating in chapel. Individual classroom requirements set by faculty, as well as the choices of our colleagues, should be respected as we continue to look for ways we can serve and care for each other during this pandemic.
Also, it’s important to remember the pandemic is not over. We will continue the following practices:
- Asking ourselves the daily screening questions before coming to work or to class.
- Using the “I am sick” reporting form if you are a resident student (TN) or calling Debbie Elliott if you are a resident student (FL).
- Complying with contact tracing protocols.
- Complying with quarantine and isolation procedures.
- Encouraging students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated.
If case counts rise, if we experience an outbreak of illness on campus, or if national case rates lead to new CDC guidelines, we may need to require masks again. We will continue to monitor the situation and make the best decisions we can with the information available.
In our response to the COVID-19 threat, two driving forces have guided our deliberations: first, we must ensure that the worthy and compelling mission of Johnson University persists into the future. Therefore, we want to make sure that every decision regarding this situation supports both the short-term and long-term sustainability of the mission to educate students to extend the kingdom of God among all nations. Secondly, we must care deeply for the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. The senior leadership team has thoroughly examined every aspect of our operations to protect the people on our campuses; the policies and procedures that have emerged fulfill our goal of doing what is best for the health of our community.
None of these decisions, policies, or procedures are perfect. We are confronted by circumstances that change daily (sometimes even hourly) and we make the best possible choices given the current information available. We regularly consult the information provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), state and local health departments, organizations like the American College Health Association, periodicals such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, and peer institutions within the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) and the Appalachian College Association. The following announcement reflects what we believe to be the best alternative at the time to advance our mission and support the well-being of our community.
The Changing COVID-19 Environment
The past two weeks have seen the strong impact of the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a new surge of infections, primarily among unvaccinated people. Delta is more contagious than the original coronavirus and now constitutes 80% of new infections in the United States. The state of Florida is currently the epicenter of new cases, reporting on Saturday, July 31, the highest one-day total in new COVID cases since the start of the pandemic. Knox County in Tennessee has seen a 205% increase in cases from the average two weeks ago and the risk of contagion for unvaccinated people is in the “very high” category.
While experts believe most of the Delta transmission is from people who have not been vaccinated, new data suggest some fully vaccinated people can spread the disease when they develop “breakthrough cases.” The vaccines have been highly protective and breakthrough cases are considered rare, but no vaccine provides 100% protection, and new research shows people with breakthrough Delta cases carry tremendous amounts of virus in their nose and throat, and may be contagious whether or not they have symptoms. Unvaccinated people, however, are most at risk to contract the Delta variant. It also seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants. Even though there is much still to learn about this variant, the best protection against Delta is vaccination.
The pandemic continues to take unexpected twists and turns and is far from over. While we would prefer a return to a “normal” semester with minimal interruption of our community routines, the current situation demands that we respond appropriately to the surge of COVID-19 cases. This response will continue to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances. The following guidelines constitute the “best practices” response to the changing COVID-19 environment for Johnson University employees and students. What will change the policies outlined below are (1) fewer infections in the local communities (moving down from “high” categories) and (2) a higher vaccination rate among students and staff.