W&M FACULTY, STAFF, AND WORKERS PETITION TO THE ADMINISTRATION

Dear President Rowe and Provost Agouris;

We, the undersigned faculty and staff, noting that:

    • The virus has already hit our community:  A number of members of our community have already been stricken with Covid, including at least one fatality. In the absence of systematic reporting we simply do not know how many of us have been taken ill. The effects of this illness are quite debilitating, even for mild cases; and it is too soon to know what the long term and lingering effects of exposure to this virus might be. 
    • The US is currently experiencing the first wave of Covid, has the highest number of cases of any country in the world, and has not been able to bring it under control. While the first wave has not yet crested in the US, many experts are predicting a second wave, or intensified risk of infection during the fall and winter, when people spend more time indoors and when the flu season increases demand on hospital care. If there is a second wave or exposure does not provide immunity for long as some current research indicates, the Covid problem could well become even deadlier.
    • The 50- 64 years age group currently accounts for the greatest number of infections in the US and experiences significant risk of mortality. In particular according to CDC, 24.3 percent of confirmed Covid infections are in this age group, which accounts for 19.4 percent of the US population. In addition, while mortality is higher among older age groups, the risk of mortality among those aged 50-64 years is still significant - 15.2 percent of all deaths for which age data are available to the CDC.
    • Younger people now make up a growing percentage of new coronavirus casesas reported here in the New York Times. These stories are backed up by CDC data showing that the second largest age group in terms of number of confirmed cases is in the 18 – 24 years age group, precisely the age of college students.
    • University campus environments are the "perfect storm" for asymptomatic Covid transmissions. Residential life increases the risk of transmission, not just from student to student, but to all staff and faculty – and so to members of their households – in regular contact with persons working and residing on campus. This has led several top universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, and MIT to make the difficult but science-based decision to teach most of their classes online this fall.
    • Hispanics, African-Americans, those with underlying health conditions, and those with blood type A are disproportionately represented among Covid morbidity and mortality.   There are quite a few studies showing that people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer were all associated with an increased risk of death from Covid. In addition, underlying risk factors are starting to be understood. Some of these can be observed; for example people with A blood type seem to be at higher risk of suffering severe illness (NIH write-up).  There may be other risk factors that cannot yet be known by individuals.

    Furthermore, noting that the prevention of Covid-19 transmission is drastically reduced by:

    ·      Face Masks: The wearing of face masks significantly reduces the risk of Covid transmission by all in public settings according to CDCJohns Hopkins University and a recent NPR story. This seems elementary, but when you are 6-8 feet apart indoors, you can still transmit & be infected by the virus if everyone is not wearing a mask.

    ·      Extensive Testing & Contact Tracing: The countries that did better at controlling Covid-19 are those that invested early & significantly in testing & contact tracing.  Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore all have performed significantly better that the US at the macro level.  There are lessons from this for the micro-level at W&M: In-person, indoor teaching without the use of face masks by all  will very likely lead to Covid-19 outbreaks; significant investments in regular testing; and contact tracing (either the traditional kind as here in the free course by JHU, or the high tech kind through apps on phones or wearing of gadgets) are vital to prevent such outbreaks. The US numbers for morbidity and mortality would undoubtedly be lower had we made a large-scale investment in  testing and contact tracing.

    ·      Limiting the Number of People in Any Gathering: As we have seen during the recent lockdowns in response to the coronavirus, lockdowns and limits on gatherings of people to small groups is the key to preventing the rise in transmissions. Moreover, states that moved to Phase 2 where gatherings were more likely  (e.g., South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Arizona) have seen substantial increases in their rates of transmission.

    Request that:

    ·      The health, safety & livelihood of the W&M community be prioritized: William & Mary's decisions in the Path Forward be based on science and the safety and wellbeing of the entire W&M community;

    ·      No disclosure of private information: No member of the W&M community be required to disclose personal health concerns or any reason for not wanting to teach in person;

    ·      Face masks & physical distancing be required, with clear sanctions for violations: We welcome W&M's June 26, 2020 Covid-19 Response update stating that every member of the W&M community will be required to practice physical distancing and wear face masks in public spaces on campus. We request that W&M clearly lay out sanctions for violators of this policy.

    ·      Everyone on campus be regularly tested at W&M's cost: We welcome W&M's June 26, 2020 Covid-19 Response update stating that all students will be tested for Covid-19 on arrival and employees have the partially-subsidized option to be tested.  However, we request that the entire W&M community be tested for Covid-19 during the first week of classes and every couple of weeks thereafter at W&M's cost. Offering voluntary and only partially subsidized access to Covid-19 testing will disadvantage the most vulnerable members of the William & Mary community, particularly those employees without full healthcare coverage. Furthermore, the science clearly shows that in a densely populated environment like a college campus, only regular and ongoing testing will help mitigate against an outbreak of Covid-19.

    ·      No one should be required to teach in-person: No instructor at William & Mary, including NTE faculty and undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants, should be required to teach in person. This has been the decision taken at other Virginia universities like Mary Washington and the University of Virginia and this should be the policy of W&M.

    ·      W&M workers whose work can be done remotely and who prefer to work from home for whatever reason, should have the choice to work from home without consequence: Moreover, those workers who cannot work from home must be protected. Like faculty, all W&M workers whose work can be done remotely, should have the option to do so. W&M workers who are essential to the university and cannot work from home, from housekeeping staff to dining hall staff, should be protected, paid a living wage in line with  MIT's Living Wage Calculator, provided hazard pay, and provided paid sick leave as needed.  All W&M workers are valuable members of our community and living up to W&M's stated goals on diversity and inclusion requires us to protect the most exposed members of our community.

    ·      More transparency about thresholds for closing the campus in the fall: We welcome W&M's June 26, 2020 Covid-19 Response update stating that the university has plans for student quarantining and isolation.  Yet what remains unclear is how the College will determine whether conditions warrant closing the campus to all activities. This is an especially challenging concern, given the fact that rates of transmission and mortality are currently worse across the country today than they were when W&M and most other universities closed their campuses in early March. How many positive tests will constitute an outbreak that warrants closing down the campus?

    ·    Act on its commitment to diversity & inclusion in its planning on the Path Forward:  W&M has a stated commitment to diversity and inclusion. The composition of each group tasked with providing analysis for the Path Forward should have a voice dedicated to diversity and inclusion concerns. The administration should also do more to engage with the W&M community on this subject, including hearing and offering timely responses to student, worker, staff and faculty concerns about the return to campus, as well as the holding of community-wide town halls within the next couple of weeks. 

    ·      Do not ask students, staff or instructors to sign liability waivers:  No student, staff or instructors should be asked to sign any waivers absolving the university of responsibility should they contract Covid-19 on campus.

    Presented by:

    Rani Mullen, Government

    Brad Weiss, Anthropology

    Kurt Williamson, Biology

    Stephen Sheehi, AMES and MLL

    Francis Tanglao Aguas, Theater and Asian Pacific Island American Studies

    Arthur Knight, English and American Studies

    Kathleen Jenkins, Sociology

    Simon Stow, Government

    Silvia Tandeciarz, MLL

    Anne Rasmussen, Music

    Jim Rick, WM Workers' Union

    Fred Corney, History

    Bill Fisher, Anthropology

     

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