October 14, 2020
Dear Gonzaga University Students and Parents:
Greetings and I hope that things are going well for each of you during this extraordinary and often challenging time. There are still many aspects of our current situation that I find myself struggling with at times: the ubiquitous use of Zoom versus in-person meetings and conversations; the small numbers of people in classrooms and walking the halls; the lack of constant lines at the Hemmingson Starbucks. Among many sentiments, it is normal to miss “normal” itself – even as we all recognize that re-gaining the freedom to live, study, socialize and travel as we could before COVID-19 may take some time.
Yet – we humans are remarkably adaptive creatures, and though it may require a bit more effort to see, I am extremely proud of the work that is going on constantly, all around us. In both “virtual” as well as “physical” environments, classes and labs are meeting, study groups are gathering, artistic works are being created, research is being conducted, and many in need are being served. Though under modified conditions, the fitness center is being consistently utilized, student-athletes are practicing, and your student government association, clubs and organizations are planning and holding events. The ingenuity and creativity that is always at the heart of the Gonzaga community is alive and well and will undoubtedly continue to reveal itself over the coming months.
It is perhaps indicative of this era that we are now, in new and more visible ways, obligated to pay careful attention and adapt as the novel coronavirus continues to spread in communities across our country and around the world. Yesterday’s windstorm serves as a harbinger of cooler autumn days and the need to absorb sunshine when and if it appears; and with shorter days and colder nights, more of our time will of necessity be spent indoors. With more time indoors, the opportunity for transmission of respiratory viruses (including flu) increases among people living in community – whether it be a residence hall, apartment building, or traditional house.
Reflective of a recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Spokane County (October 8th was the highest positive-test date since early August), we at GU also noted an increase in the number of students who have tested positive for COVID-19, particularly among off-campus students. The sense of our Regional Health District director is that people may be “letting their guard down” and more widely circulating in the community. As we all know, one of the most difficult things about this novel coronavirus is its ability to infect, and be infectious, among people with no presenting symptoms.
Ever since the week before our semester started, a team of people dedicated to supporting our students’ health and well-being have been working to support students in isolation and quarantine. As you will have seen from Dr. Kent Porterfield’s recent updates, there have been (and are) a number of students who must isolate or quarantine at any given time, which is frustrating yet at the same time really important. I am very grateful to our colleagues who have taken on the complexity of helping our students in this circumstance; together, we can continue to work to keep the numbers of affected individuals as low as possible.
With this in mind, I ask that we all sustain and maintain our efforts to keep ourselves, and each other, healthy as we move into the autumn season. Zags both on- and off-campus have done an excellent job of limiting exposure opportunities by wearing face coverings and keeping gatherings small, and we need to ask each of you to continue doing your part in this regard. Frequent hand-washing and wiping oft-used surfaces down with a suitable disinfectant is important. We have placed additional Plexiglas dividers in the dining halls to decrease the amount of time people are in “close contact” while still allowing them to eat together. Please utilize them.
It is also important that we continue to support one another and care for one another during this time. With all of the reminders to maintain physical distance, it is easy for people to become lonely and disconnected. We want to encourage everyone to find ways of reaching out and helping each other to create and maintain the bonds of friendship, care, and belonging. Autumn in Spokane is a beautiful season – we encourage you to take walks and hikes together, to visit the orchards of Greenbluff, and the rapids of the lower Spokane Falls at the Bowl and Pitcher. This is a time to be intentional and keep ourselves healthy and safe, but to continue to seek and find meaning and fulfillment along the way. Keep calm and Zag On!
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.