Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: Returning to Work Safely
July 16, 2021
Sixteen months ago today, we took emergency action to close campus access to all but essential personnel. We had one day to collect our files and equipment, and plan to teach, learn, and work remotely for an indefinite period. At the time, we knew that COVID-19 was deadly, highly contagious, and spreading rapidly. Work sites, schools, stores, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, concerts, and sporting events posed new and unprecedented health and safety risks.
Fast forward to today, and much has changed including our understanding of COVID-19 and what we can do to prevent its spread. Wednesday’s Town Hall on our pandemic re-emergence marked a turning point when members of the Pandemic Response Team (PRT) conveyed a basic and important message: we can return to work on campus safely. We will share a recap of the Town Hall early next week for those who were not able to participate.
The PRT meets frequently and evaluates myriad data points and research sources to ensure that our actions protect the health and safety of our community. We have been reviewing information and facts showing vaccines are highly effective at preventing illness. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of Westchester County’s adult population has received at least one vaccine dose and the 7-day rolling average of COVID-19 positive cases in Westchester County has been 1% or below since May 11. This summer, Westchester Community College has zero cases, which can be attributed to protective measures in place and the extraordinary efforts of our community members following them.
We’ve learned from 16 months of experience that widespread use of masks prevents the spread of disease, along with frequent hand washing and availability of hand sanitizers and surface cleaners. We have upgraded our ventilation systems and reconfigured workspaces with more distance and protective barriers. We closely monitor other sectors as they have increased face-to-face contact, and review colleges that have created safe spaces and protocols for students to return to their preferred learning environments including the SUNY four-year campuses which returned on July 2.
Despite this progress, we do not underestimate the impact of the last 16 months on our mental and physical health and the various aspects of our lives that have become quite different because of the pandemic. PRT is deeply appreciative of your thoughtful reflection and valuable contributions to the ongoing and unfinished process of creating the exemplar high-performance, post-pandemic community college. We will continue to ask for and listen to your input as PRT continues its work and stays ready to adjust practices when conditions change.
Foremost on our minds is our students, whose lives were upended by the pandemic, of which our abrupt transition to remote learning was just a part. With deep gratitude and appreciation, I acknowledge the effort each of you put into serving our students and community during this time. Our doors remained open (albeit virtually), and we offered outstanding teaching and learning opportunities. We remained a beacon of hope to so many of our students during unprecedented times. Westchester Community College was, for many, “a certain place in uncertain times.” We want every new and continuing student, every student who stopped out during the pandemic, and all our staff, faculty, and administrators to rest assured in our commitment to provide a safe and caring environment.
This is an exciting time for the college – as we continue to celebrate our 75th anniversary. We also celebrate our creativity and innovation in the many ways we serve our community. I have no doubt that we will bring the best of all we learned and all we have done over these many months back to campus, because, as this Inside Higher Ed piece notes, “we are experiencing an opportunity to transform things for the better…”
Thank you for all you do to ensure that WCC remains the premier college for teaching, learning, and workforce development in and beyond our region.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles