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College during a pandemic: a letter from York College’s president

College during a pandemic: a letter from York College’s president

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York College is making final preparations as the fall semester begins Wednesday, August 26. As in past years, the formal opening of school will take place during an opening chapel ceremony. Unlike past years, opening chapel will be held at Levitt Stadium where social distancing is possible in an open-air setting.

Long before opening day, I and other college officials were communicating with students about our guidelines in response to COVID-19. Based on their comments, I can assure you that returning students and new students alike want to cooperate and avoid a repeat of last spring.

Our goal is to keep our students on campus until Thanksgiving Break. Following the break, we will conclude the semester with online classes and finals. Although we are working to keep students on campus until late November, our faculty are preparing for a variety of scenarios including in-person, hybrid and remote instruction.

While a multi-page COVID-19 guideline document was created to shape our response, we focused on seven priorities when communicating with our students.

• Face coverings will be required on campus

• Daily screenings (including temperature checks) will be required.

• Wherever possible, 6-foot social distancing should be maintained.

• Avoid off-campus travel whenever possible and, when necessary, maintain strict social distancing.

• Wash hands often, especially before you eat.

• Report symptoms. If you have a fever of 100.4°F or more or exhibit other symptoms of

COVID-19, notify your resident assistant or resident hall director and follow assessment, quarantine or isolation instructions.

• Love one another. Above all else, show respect and kindness to one other. We will get through this better if we work together. Panthers take care of Panthers.

These seven priorities and our campus guidelines came from recommendations made earlier this summer by a task force of campus professionals and representatives from Four Corners Health Department, York General Hospital and others. They crafted a plan based on guidance from the CDC and the State of Nebraska.

These guidelines change every aspect of campus life. Dining services, classroom instruction, housing, student activities and more will look different. Athletics will adhere to rules put in place by the NAIA and the Kansas College Athletic Association (KCAC). In preparation for the school year, we were eligible for and received significant amounts of supplies from the State of Nebraska, including PPE gear, cleaning supplies and more.

For the inevitable moment when students become ill we have been provided several hundred tests by Test Nebraska that can be administered on campus thanks to assistance from our partners at York General Hospital. We have also secured a Sofia II Antigen based testing machine that allows us to get results quickly when timely information is needed to assess our status. Guidelines and additional housing capacity have been secured to meet quarantine and isolation requirements as needed.

Sadly for us, our guidelines include closing our campus to community guests for their protection as well as those on campus. This will affect our neighbors who make use of the Holthus Field House and others who typically use campus facilities. One important exception is the Meals-on-Wheels program with food preparation on campus continuing for our neighbors in the community who depend on this program. We do ask that all Meal-on-Wheels volunteers wear a face covering while collecting meals for distribution from the Phyllis Mackey Center. We are also working to structure seating for our athletic events in a way that will permit fans to attend games in the Freeman Center.

Please check the YC Athletics website ahead of any competition to ensure it is open to the public and for instructions on admission to the event.

I returned to York to assume the role of president at the beginning of July. Although a pandemic was not my dream scenario as I begin, after only six weeks back in York where I was a student 25 years ago, I have been reminded of two important facets of York College. First, we are surrounded and supported by a great community. Our partners in this community have been generous with their time and their talents. We are privileged to call York, home. Second, while we will take precautions to protect our campus and our neighbors, our future has always been in God’s hands. It still is and that is very good news.


Dr. Sam Smith


York College

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