One year has passed since the extraordinary events of March 2020 changed so many things. A year ago at ACU we extended spring break and moved to virtual instruction to complete the semester, as we grappled with the unknowable impact of a coming global pandemic. And we prayed – a lot.
Unlike nearly every other university in the country, our campus never completely shut down in 2020. Many students continued to live on campus, food services continued, the library and fitness facilities were still available but with new safety protocols and hours. By the end of the semester, we made the commitment to safely continue in the fall of 2021 with face-to-face instruction, athletics, intramurals and other extracurricular activities. We even conducted a face-to-face summer class in June, without incident.
This year has certainly been challenging, and yet we have attempted to keep the experience for ACU students as normal as possible while protecting the health of our community. Many of ACU’s staff have gone above and beyond during this year to address COVID-related issues in addition to their usual duties, and we are so thankful for their commitment.
Since the beginning of this crisis, we have attempted to respond to the latest guidance from health officials and protect our community’s safety, while also maximizing liberty and individual responsibility, which are core American and ACU values. All COVID-related protocols were implemented in response to specific health threats, and narrowly tailored to protect the community while preserving freedom and the best parts of the college experience for our students.
So it was in the fall, when cases rose in Arizona and on campus and contact tracing revealed many had been exposed, we paused some activities and enabled synchromodal instruction so we could safely return after Thanksgiving.
In January, for the spring semester, based on our fall experience of no known transmission from classroom contact, we revised our contact tracing guidelines to avoid placing healthy students into quarantine. This has had a very positive effect on mental health and stress in ACU’s community, while having no effect on transmission of the disease.
Now, circumstances are changing again, and ACU is again responding.
We are thankful to God that the number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and nationally have dropped significantly since early January. In Arizona, the 7-day average of new infections has dropped from more than 10,000 per day to around 500. At the same time, about 27 percent of Arizonans have been vaccinated and another 13 percent carry the antibodies, making it much more difficult for the disease to spread. Thankfully, many of Arizona’s most vulnerable are now immunized.
At ACU, there have been only a few positive cases this semester, and none among our student population for more than 6 weeks.
With the nationwide reduction in positive cases, decrease in hospitalizations, release of vaccines, and continued progress by the medical community in treating COVID-19, many states and locales have begun lifting restrictions on business operations, size of gatherings, and mask requirements. Recently the CDC reduced its recommended social distance for K-12 classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.
By executive order Thursday, March 25, Gov. Ducey prevented states and localities from implementing facemask mandates, leaving it to individual businesses to make those determinations. He also eliminated restrictions on large gatherings, while continuing to encourage social distancing and caution.
After extensive internal discussion, prayer and consultation with medical professionals, ACU’s COVID-19 policies will respond to these changing circumstances by implementing the following policies, effective immediately:
- On ACU’s campus, masks are still recommended, but no longer required, with the following exceptions
- masks must be worn in the athletic training office, due to the small space and lack of ability to social distance; and
- some coaches and teams may require masks in certain settings for their student-athletes as they prepare for potential post-season competition and NAIA testing and mask requirements.
- Social distancing is still recommended to the extent possible. If you are not wearing a mask, please be especially respectful and cognizant of those who are wearing masks or seeking to maintain social distance.
- No one should be shamed on ACU’s campus for wearing a mask, or for not wearing a mask!
- For athletic events on the ACU campus:
- Outdoors, for those who have field access during games, masks and health screenings including temperature checks are still required per NAIA requirements. Masks are not required for those who do not have field access. Limitations on crowd size have been lifted.
- Indoors, crowd size limitations remain in place to allow social distancing.
If you are in an “at risk” category due to age or underlying health conditions, or if you are uncomfortable or feel unsafe without a mask, please continue wearing a mask on campus, outdoors or indoors.
While we are excited to take these first steps toward a return to normalcy, the pandemic is not over and we will continue to respond to circumstances and infection rates in Arizona and our community in order to protect health and safety.
In addition to the above COVID protocols, we continue to recommend:
- Social distance to the extent possible.
- Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds.
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Clean and disinfect your living areas.
- Do your daily self-checks.
- Student-athletes are to record their daily self-check responses in the SENTRY/Punch Alert App.
- If you feel sick, DO NOT COME TO WORK, CLASS OR PRACTICE and contact the appropriate person.
Thank you for your continued prayers, flexibility and support as we seek to continue protecting the health and safety of the ACU community. Let’s continue to ask God to protect ACU, as He has throughout the pandemic, and continue to love one another by showing grace to each other as we navigate these issues.
These guidelines will be updated and revised depending on circumstances and any additional guidance from state and local health officials.