DATE: July 17, 2020 at 2:45 pm
TO: Faculty and Staff

FROM: Dr. Richard Nelson, President


Thanks to all who were able to participate in one of our “town hall” BlueJeans sessions this week. I hope you found them informative. If you were unable to participate and would like to view the recordings, you can find them here: Tuesday, July 14 – 8 am – 10:03 AM and Thursday, July 16 – 2:30-4 PM (Please disregard Chapter 1). 

As we look toward the future, the picture still fuzzy. Although it seems as if we’ve lived in this strange and uncomfortable situation (I refuse to call it a “new normal”!) for a very long time, it is a novel coronavirus. It was unknown to the world only a few months ago so it’s to be expected that much remains to be learned. Fortunately, despite the unknowns and ambiguities, good and reliable guidance for decision-making is embedded in our College values.

The first of our values statements (Board Policy 1.03) is this:

We believe in the worth and dignity of the individual, and we therefore commit to treating each person with kindness and respect.

In my view, our commitment to respecting people and recognizing their worth includes providing a safe and healthy environment in which to work and learn. This was true before the pandemic and it is true now, regardless of the challenges COVID-19 creates. But how can we guarantee a safe and healthy campus with all that we don’t yet know? The answer, as it was before, is that there are no guarantees, but we can mitigate and manage risk.

The latest research suggests that acquiring the infection by touching contaminated surfaces is rarer than first thought (Note: Our elevated schedule of cleaning and sanitization of rooms where people gather and of frequently touched surfaces will continue anyway). Epidemiologists now believe that almost all community transmission occurs when uninfected people share airspaces with infected people, so controlling that route of transmission is the key to keeping ourselves, our colleagues and our students safe. Here’s how:

  1. The most certain way to avoid transmission in shared air spaces is not to go into them in the first place. That’s why we will continue to support and favor remote work, and remote delivery of instruction and student services wherever possible. It should be exceedingly rare for students to be on campus to listen to a lecture, view a PowerPoint or fill out a form. However, we recognize that not all of our work can be done efficiently and well without some face to face interaction in shared air spaces, so how do we keep those spaces as safe as possible?
  2. The best way to avoid transmission in shared air spaces is to keep infected people out of them. That’s why #1 on our “Do the Five” posters is: FEEL SICK? STAY HOME. Unfortunately, this isn’t good enough because (a) some people, perhaps many, can be infected and show no (or very mild) symptoms, and (b) evidence suggests that infected people may be the most contagious just before symptoms are noticeable. It’s hard for people to know when to stay home when they’re infected but don’t know it.
  3. If we acknowledge that the probability of occasionally sharing an air space with infected, asymptomatic person is real and not insignificant, then what?  Because the virus is transmitted primarily through the small droplets we all shed as we talk and breathe, the next level of defense is to minimize the load or concentration of these droplets in shared air spaces. Three good ways do that are (a) meet in bigger spaces (a dilution effect) or outside is even better, (b) allow fewer people in rooms (fewer people = fewer droplets), and (c) wear masks or face coverings. Wearing a face covering is the most effective transmission avoidance tool we have where people gather indoors because it prevents droplets from getting into the air in the first place. The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, The Centers for Disease Control, The World Health Organization and many others agree.

As you know, we have opened on a very limited basis and only for the most essential activities. We hope to continue that gradual reopening – first with more employees spending more time on campus and very limited services by appointment only, and then with more students in our hands-on learning labs. Our ability to follow our reopening framework (shared in the 6/17 COVID Update) will, in part, depend on how well we understand and take to heart transmission avoidance practices and behaviors. It’s clear now that this responsibility will be largely ours as the federal government and most states, including Wisconsin, are unsuccessful so far.

The number of COVID-19 infections is rising in the Northwoods, just as it is in most parts of Wisconsin and across the country. Many people, including me, had some hope that the pandemic might take a summer break in advance of the fall/winter flu season, but it didn’t. In fact, Wisconsin’s curve has only gotten steeper since the July 4 holiday (see the table below), and Oneida Co. cases have jumped from 28 to 43 in the past week. Of greatest concern to colleges everywhere is the infection rate among younger people. In Wisconsin, 54% of the positive tests are in people under 40, and 25% are in 20 - 29 group.

New COVID-19 cases in WI (7- day average; WI DHS data)

April 1

May 1

June 1

July 1

July 16






Like everyone, we remain optimistic that our scientists and medical research teams will discover better treatments that can quickly be made available to those who are sick, and that one or more of the 100+ vaccines in development around the world will prove safe and effective, and be in distribution as early as next year. Between now and then, however, prevention as described above is our best defense against exposure and transmission. As we head toward fall and beyond, I expect that you’ll recognize all of the best prevention tools and strategies at work.

One question submitted in advance of our town hall sessions was this: “How can we help the college be successful as it reopens physically?” First, I appreciate the question, especially the obviously positive and can-do mindset of the questioner! Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

  • Inventing different ways to do our work under less-than- ideal circumstances is hard, and we want everyone to feel supported. If you have an idea or if there’s something you need to make your work better in some way, please talk with your supervisor or any ELT member.
  • More importantly, let’s go back to our values. Let’s respect each other as individuals, each with a unique set of talents and gifts. Let’s turn down the volume on the empty-headed trolls and the arrogant charlatans of cable news and social media – they add nothing to our college or our work. Let’s resolve to be kind, empathetic, and informed. Let’s call-out incivility wherever we see it, and let’s preserve and promote our caring community of learners.

Lastly, I recognize that some of the information on our COVID-19 Resources and Updates webpage needs attention. Over the next several days we’ll remove entries we find to be out of date or no longer applicable and we’ll revise policies and practices to better reflect our reasoned, incremental approach to bringing our beautiful campus back to life.

It's Friday. Have a safe and joy-filled weekend.