Western Strong Operations Plan
Western Strong: Ensuring Campus Safety
Last revision: June 23, 2020
This plan articulates how Western Colorado University (the “University” or “Western”) aims to resume campus operations beginning in the Fall 2020 semester—recognizing the heightened need for caution and operational change in an environment where minimizing risk of COVID-19 infection and impact among campus and community stakeholders, adhering to county, state, and federal health and operational guidelines, and maintaining the statutory mission of the University is imperative.
To accomplish our goal, Western administrative and faculty stakeholders are organizing efforts to address the myriad complexities in alignment with these four primary objectives:
1. Infection Mitigation: In collaboration with Gunnison County Health and Human Services and the CDC, Western has and continues to create guidelines, policies and program-specific functional plans to minimize infection risk throughout the campus community. The health and safety of everyone who attends classes, events, and activities is critically important to Western. All persons accessing campus are expected to comply with applicable public health orders and Western’s policies. While it is important that the University community takes steps to help minimize risks to public health, Western cannot and does not guarantee protection to students, employees, and others from illness. Students, employees, and others coming to campus must understand and acknowledge the potential risks associated with a contagious disease or other public health emergency like COVID-19.
2. Assisting Public Health: Western collaborates frequently and closely with Gunnison County public health and emergency operations to alleviate challenges related to testing, screening, contact tracing, and outbreak response. As the largest organizational entity in Gunnison County, Western’s hand-in-glove partnership with city and county stakeholders is well established. COVID-19 has provided daily opportunities to work in close alignment with local stakeholders and resolve alignment gaps to ensure community health and welfare.
3. Outreach and Communication: Informed by authoritative and evolving higher education and health best practices, Western is initiating outreach and communication programs to ensure Western students, staff, faculty, as well as family and community stakeholders have up-to-date, science-supported information on infection prevention and new community interaction protocols. Pursuit of this objective will help ensure that campus operational changes are well understood and willingly adhered to among campus stakeholders: as operational changes can only be successful if individual behavior follows in turn. Equally as important to Western is the opportunity to listen to these same stakeholders, to incorporate the innovation and passion of its community to address gaps in our plan.
4. Learning and Community: Western has and continues to adapt its instruction to new and diverse modalities, including fully online learning, lecture-capture, and hybrid and HyFlex modalities that either blend in-person and remote learning within a single class, or that enable rapid mid-term transition of modality should changing health circumstances warrant. Western will continue to bolster and leverage its technological infrastructure and expertise to not only maintain curricular integrity in new modes, but also to use emerging technology to best educational advantage. We also will continue to strive for excellent student services in the areas of mental health, student services, and learning outside the classroom. As the University plans for instruction in the coming academic year, students are advised that in response to a further public health emergency or potential public health emergency such as COVID-19, some or all instruction for all or part of any particular academic year may be delivered remotely. Any necessary adjustments to instruction will be made congruent with public health considerations. Tuition and fees have been set regardless of the method of instruction and will not be refunded in the event instruction occurs remotely for any part of the year.
In light of the complexity of each primary objective, Western has developed a committee structure specific to COVID-19 response and planning that incorporates all major University unit areas, to ensure that operational changes can be holistically understood and implemented, and inter-unit gaps and misalignments can be immediately solved for.
Provenance and Maintenance of Plan
This plan will be maintained by Western’s COVID-19 Deputy, who will coordinate with Gunnison County Incident Command (“IC”) to verify it meets the requirements to maintain the safest possible campus operation. To enable this plan’s evolution as circumstances change the President’s Extended Cabinet, a campus COVID-19 Task Force and functional Task Force subsets will continue to meet regularly.
This task force will also review changes to public health orders and interpret, revise, and update campus operations as necessary.
The COVID-19 Deputy will maintain the plan as additional information is presented and educate the campus community on changes to the plan on an ongoing basis.
This plan will be reviewed, and revised as necessary. The University reserves the right to amend the policy.
1. Western will implement a ‘phased’ return. There are three phases that the campus should plan for and develop capabilities around based on the State’s guidance:
a. Urgent: “We need to help flatten the curve”
This was the scenario in March and April, in which there was active outbreak and concern for the health system being overloaded. Features of this planning consideration are:
• Recommend on-campus residents return home, if they are able
• Gathering size limited to 10 people
• Only essential employees on campus
b. Stabilization: “The curve has been flattened, but we must work to prevent another outbreak”
The University anticipates – but does not guarantee – that Fall 2020 will proceed in this phase. Anticipated features of this phase include:
• Outbreak Response
• Program/Building-Specific Adaptations
c. Recovery: “There is a vaccine widely available, what do we need to learn from this?”
All restrictions lifted, back to ‘business as usual’ or ‘the new normal.’ Aid the county in monitoring for outbreaks and building population immunity.
2. This is an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ issue requiring a shift in our culture. For this plan to work, the entire campus community must support:
a. Cleaning high-touch areas as necessary
b. Enforcing campus policies
c. Looking for ways to further impede infection
d. Aiding in additional duties as able/necessary
3. The stabilization period will impact campus spaces and programs disproportionately. Areas that would normally see high volumes of students gathering in one place may be affected to a greater degree than those that do not, for instance.
4. Resumption of activities will be gradual and phased based on local public health conditions and guidance, as well as institutional capacity. Return to an active on-campus environment may depend upon widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine of ill and exposed individuals both on campus and in the community. Western will prepare for the prospect of a local rebound of infections that may result in a return to more restrictive mitigation measures and physical distancing for periods of time.
5. The high-touch, highly interactive, mobile, densely populated living and learning environment typical of most campuses is the exemplar of a congregate setting with multiple risk factors for ready transmission of COVID-19. The University will work to mitigate risk of transmission but all persons accessing campus voluntarily assume the risk in coming to campus.
6. Protecting our most vulnerable populations (medically susceptible, undocumented, students of color, uninsured or underinsured, non-traditional, older, DACA, and homeless students, faculty, and staff members) is a moral and ethical obligation. Some vulnerable individuals may need to observe heightened precautions for a more prolonged period.
7. Meticulous adherence to public health practices including hand hygiene, physical distancing, proper cough/sneeze etiquette, frequent disinfection of common and high traffic areas, symptom assessment, and the use of face coverings in public are University priorities. This should be widely communicated to students, employees, and all campus visitors.
There are a trio of task forces assigned to helping the University plan for and implement the appropriate infection prevention measures in coordination with public health:
1. COVID-19 Task Force
a. Assist with creating/implementing building-specific operational plans
b. Assist with creating/implementing non-athletic program operational plans
c. Create campus wide cleaning and distancing guidelines
2. Athletic COVID-19 Task Force
a. Athletic Program Plans
b. Mountaineer Field House Plan
c. Paul Wright Gym Plan
d. Club Sports
e. Intramural Sports
f. Mountain Sports
g. Mountaineer Bowl
h. Katy O. Rady Field
3. Housing and Dining COVID-19 Task Force
a. Assist with creating/implementing residential hall-specific operational plans
b. Assist with creating/implementing dining-specific operational plans
c. Assist in creating and implementing COVID-19-specific curriculum for student affairs
d. Assisting with the creation/implementation of a contact tracing plan
As stated before, cleaning the campus will be an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ operation, with the entire community working on cleanliness on an ongoing basis. A critical aspect of this planning will include the need for a cleaning plan focused on disinfection through custodial services detailing where and how additional disinfecting measures will be taken and what areas will receive less cleaning to accommodate this new mission priority.
Social distancing is being embedded into every process, program, and building across Western’s campus. From how we operate vehicles, how we arrange classrooms, how we serve food, and even how we schedule classes, social distancing will be a key part of our daily operation.
Compliance with Public Health Orders and Alignment with CDC Guidelines
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in late February and early March, Western has met or exceeded whenever and however possible with Public Health and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Our first CDC signage campaign took place in early March, reminding students, staff and faculty to wash their hands for 20 seconds.
We continue to align our operations with the best practices and expertise of these organizations and will continue. Some of these best practices and requirements include but are not limited to:
1. Wearing of face coverings in public
2. Usage of plexiglass barriers in high-traffic service areas
3. Availability of hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas
Much like cleaning, enforcement of COVID-19 policies shall be a community-wide effort and will require a culture of engagement. Student Affairs is drafting policies which utilize the student conduct system to address and adjudicate infractions of COVID-19 policies. Supervisors will be responsible for enforcing staff policies in their areas in coordination with Human Resources. Those who do not comply with public health orders and/or campus policy may be asked to leave.
Assisting Public Health
Gunnison Public Health and Western are working in direct coordination regarding current screening, testing, contact tracing, and outbreak response protocols. Western has an employee operational plan titled “Returning to the Workplace” as well as a plan for response to a positive case at Western listed in the functional annexes. Beyond these two systems, Public Health has requested two things in assisting them with the other two mission areas of testing and contact tracing:
1. Provide contacts who can aid them if necessary: The COVID-19 Deputy, the Dean of Students, Vice President of Student Success, the chair of the COVID-19 Athletic Task Force, and the Director of Human Resources are contacts for this purpose.
2. Be able and ready to aid in various forms of communication on behalf of the county. This can include but is not limited to aiding in contacting employees and staff directly, aiding in disseminating changes to health orders, aiding in signage, and communicating with the campus.
Outreach and Communication
1. Web: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Western has maintained a robust COVID-19 website that features updates, resources, and communications to the campus community. This site shall be where the campus community shall be directed to regarding the ongoing changes to public health orders/procedures.
2. Signage: A designated list of locations shall be established for the hanging of signs in various areas as needed. Signage will be used in:
b. Building Entrances
c. Common areas/lounges
3. Social Media: Western has numerous social media channels followed closely not only by students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but by the entire Gunnison Valley community. As we have since late winter, we plan to communicate important health guidance, policy adjustments, and more in a timely manner through social media, linking back to our COVID-19 website as a foundational resource.
Planning must continue with the full engagement of the entire campus community. The COVID-19 Deputy will meet with multiple campus groups on an ongoing basis to address gaps/needs as they come up and also to seek additional situational awareness. These groups include but are not limited to:
1. Extended Cabinet
2. COVID-19 Task Force
3. Athletic Task Force
4. Department Chairs, Deans and Directors
5. Student Services Committee
6. Faculty Senate
7. Mid-Managers Council
The campus community will need to receive ongoing communications around public health guidance. There are two main stakeholder groups to educate:
1. Faculty/Staff: The COVID-19 Deputy will assist the office of Human Resources to develop and deliver adequate and ongoing guidance. The primary group responsible for this education will be the safety committee.
2. Students: Students will be educated via the division of Student Affairs. The primary group responsible for this ongoing education will be the Student Services Committee.
Learning and Community
There is ongoing planning and implementation on how COVID-19 is affecting how Western continues to provide education to students. The area largely responsible for this planning is the area of Academic Affairs. Some of their planning areas include but are not limited to:
1. Adapt instruction to new and diverse modalities, including fully online learning, lecture-capture, and hybrid and HyFlex modalities that either blend in-person and remote learning within a single class, or that enable rapid mid-term transition of modality should changing health circumstances warrant. Academic Affairs in collaboration with IT will continue to bolster and leverage its technological infrastructure and expertise to not only maintain curricular integrity in new modes, but also to use emerging technology to best educational advantage.
2. Adjustments to the academic calendar.
3. Adjustments to class arrival/dismissal times.
4. Disability Services will coordinate throughout this process to make sure that Western’s education is still provided in an accessible format to our entire student body.
Under this objective, the division of Student Affairs is responsible for the areas of COVID-19 co-curricular learning, mental health, student volunteers, and campus culture and morale.
The functional planning form was distributed to campus building and program stakeholders to identify unique planning considerations for their areas. Those plans are housed within their various task forces. Typically, these plans are internal documents detailing at a granular level how various functions are to be completed and are not for public consumption.