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Dear RISD Students, Faculty, and Staff,
I write to provide additional background regarding the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) and our students who returned recently from the European Honors Program (EHP). My goal is to provide an accounting that addresses many of your concerns and questions, but please recognize that conditions can and surely will change, and our position might well have to change as well.
I want to preface the body of this message with a call for calm and civility. Many members of the RISD community have responded to the spread of COVID-19 generally – and to the status of our EHP students specifically – with words and actions of care, empathy, and comity. However, some exchanges have fallen below our collective standards. Please join me in building a common space where we can ask difficult questions and discuss nuanced issues with civility.
When Italy first encountered cases of COVID-19, my office began discussions about the risks to our EHP students and faculty and explored the option of suspending the program. Our concern was entirely precautionary: we did not want the EHP participants to become stranded in Italy should conditions worsen. We conferred with the Rhode Island Department of Health and decided to err on the side of caution. On February 26, we communicated with the EHP participants, who were on a planned field trip in Sicily, far from the affected northern provinces, that we were suspending the program.
It is important to note that two weeks prior to returning to the United States, the students did not travel in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks were reported. All EHP participants were and still are asymptomatic, and all were and still are in good health.
As we planned for the students’ return, the travel alert level issued by the U.S Department of State went from Level 2 to Level 3. We modified our original plans to correspond with the recommendations for asymptomatic travelers to affected areas. These recommendations fall under the general CDC definition of “social distancing” and include behaviors such as avoiding large congregations; keeping a distance of approximately six feet; staying in a home-like setting; and maintaining general health hygiene, such as coughing into the elbow, frequent washing of hands, avoidance of touching the face. Social distancing is not quarantine, and quarantine is not required or recommended for asymptomatic travelers. We shared our protocol with the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, who approved our plan wholeheartedly.
Upon arrival in the United States, about half of the EHP students went directly from the airport to their family homes or to stay with friends in other states. The others are staying in a hotel. These settings are consistent with the CDC recommendations for asymptomatic travelers.
The EHP students are keenly aware of the protocols for social distancing and have been instructed to maintain these protocols until March 15, two weeks after their arrival. After March 15, EHP students and faculty may return to campus. By March 30, immediately after spring break, all EHP students must be on campus to complete the semester. The Chief Critic has made arrangements so that no EHP student will lose credit or time towards their degree.
The above course of action is unlikely to address all your concerns, and I invite you to contact me if you wish to discuss this further. However, this course of action is based on expert guidance and the best science we have available. If the plan changes or new guidance is provided by the state and federal health agencies, I will communicate with you. In addition, we are holding two town hall meetings, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on RISD, on Wednesday, March 4, 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., in the RISD Auditorium. I hope you will join us to continue this conversation in person however, we will Livestream both meetings if you’d prefer to watch remotely (linked below); recordings of both will also be available.
Livestream Town Hall Recordings
We all have a role in making a difficult situation tolerable, and perhaps even binding, in ways we have not yet imagined. Please help RISD become a national model of comradery under duress and of creativity under constraints.