DATE: March 16, 2021 at 12:42 pm
TO: Faculty and Staff

FROM: Dr. Richard Nelson, President

Friends and colleagues,

Clocks are set for daylight savings time and spring is just around the corner. I’m thinking more about summer and what it will bring. Perhaps you are too. With the increasing availability of vaccines in Wisconsin and nationally, including our own clinic for College employees on Thursday (18th), dare we hope for more “normal” times ahead? If so, when? With questions like these in mind, I want to share some thoughts on what we might expect in the next several weeks and months.

Wisconsin continues to do fairly well in terms of the percentage of people vaccinated. Compared to all states, we’re 19th according to the most recent survey I’ve seen, and having a higher portion of the population protected is especially important right now.  Until recently, we’ve seen a steady decline in new cases since January 8. Over the past ten days, however, the number has levelled off and even crept up a bit.

Whether this is random variation in the data or the beginning of another period of steadily rising case numbers isn’t clear yet. What is clear, however, is that a third wave of cases driven by the more highly contagious COVID variants is worrisome. It’s happening in other parts of the world, and the best way to reduce that risk here is to administer as many vaccines as possible as quickly as possible.

With perseverance and a bit of luck, I am hopeful that a significant rise in new cases is avoidable. Either way, our decision-making will continue to be based on (1) guidance from public health officials (CDC, WI DHS, OCHD), and (2) compliance with all applicable regulations.  As of today, we’ve seen no substantive change in either, so Nicolet’s current policies and practices remain in place. However, that could change in the coming weeks. Here’s what we’re watching:

  • Governor Evers’ Executive Order 105 (public health emergency declaration) and Emergency Order 1 (mask mandate) extends through April 4. Whether they are allowed to expire, are renewed as is, or are renewed with changes will inform our next steps toward reopening and the timing thereof.
  • On March 8, the CDC released slightly relaxed safety guidelines for certain situations, but those that are relevant to College protocols (wearing masks, 6’ distancing, avoiding shared airspaces) are unchanged. New CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people are expected, but they may have limited application on our campus as we have no plans to identify employee vaccination status.
  • On March 11, President Biden directed all States, Tribes and Territories to make every adult eligible for vaccination by May 1 “with the goal of getting the nation closer to normal by July 4th, Independence Day.”

Despite the uncertainties, I am optimistic. Assuming the rate of vaccination accelerates as production and distribution continues to ramp up, and assuming that enough of us choose to receive the vaccine, I foresee a disciplined reopening of the warm and welcoming campus we all miss so much. I now expect we’ll be able to begin taking tangible steps in that direction as summer approaches.

Although I cannot now guarantee exactly what reopening will look like, I can say that we’ll closely monitor evolving CDC guidelines and what happens in Madison as April 5 approaches. If things go well, I foresee an incremental return of employees by early summer, a measured resumption of classroom instruction by fall semester, and a reopening to the public soon thereafter. Bottom line is that we’ll go as fast as we can and as carefully as we must.

Speaking for our Board of Trustees and the entire leadership team, your hard work and creative problem-solving has been an inspiration throughout.  Although it’s too soon to declare victory, I feel as if we’re rounding third and heading for home. Thank you all.