Notes from the President

Chris Gray, Ph.D. | Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

We’ve been hearing about the “new normal” since COVID-19 ripped through our country and caused a massive shutdown in March of 2020.  Theoretically, with the development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines and boosters; we should be done with this by now, right?  It certainly would seem so.  And yet, here we are, coming up on the beginning of our third year of wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and trying to make life as normal as possible while still navigating labor shortages and supply chain challenges; and, as we know all too well, a succession of COVID variants.

Outside, the Omicron variant continues to surge, and it’s the most contagious and transmissible form of COVID-19 that we’ve seen yet.  Whether or not the latest variant surge has started to abate is still not clear, and of course, we don’t know what’s next.  Pandemic fatigue is a real thing, and as we keep hearing, our collective surge capacity is beyond diminished after almost two years of the pandemic.  That said, we nonetheless have a responsibility to acknowledge that, however tired we may be of it, the pandemic is not over and is likely to be with us for some time to come.  As we continue to see near record-breaking numbers of new cases each day, it feels like it’s time to talk about what EC3PA has done to try to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe.  

To protect our college community, we have taken the following COVID-19 mitigation steps so far:

  1. Distributed cleansing wipes, hand sanitizer, and other supplies throughout our 900 State Street and St. Benedict Education Center locations.  We are coordinating with our other leased locations to provide needed supplies as well.
  2. Adopted the latest safety practices from the Erie County Department of Health and are conveying those to all members of the college community.
  3. Created materials that can be distributed to students and used on our website and social media channels to promote health and safety on campus.
  4. Enlisted all instructors to review COVID-19 safety measures at the beginning of each class.
  5. Ensured compliance with partner organizations’ safety policy and procedures.
  6. Monitored other academic institutions for their COVID-19 policies and protocols so that we can create consistency of practice and procedure.

Obviously, that list is ever fluid and must necessarily be subject to change at a moment’s notice based upon emergent circumstances.  So, while it feels impossible to make any concrete plans for future COVID-19 protocols, we nonetheless have committed to the following steps as we look to the future:

  1. Follow the Erie County Department of Health, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Centers for Disease Control as our authorities on COVID-19 information, policy, protocols, and practice.
  2. Prepare to help transition affected students and/or instructors to remote course delivery if possible.
  3. Prepare to shift to a hybrid work schedule where feasible to limit staff and administrative exposure.
  4. Prepare to shift all classes to a remote delivery format if needed.
  5. Develop an operations continuity plan, including cross-training and job shadowing, to ensure that campus business can continue should employees be unable to work due to illness.
  6. Develop communication plans ready for instant deployment that clearly inform students and employees of college operations and responses to COVID developments.
  7. Prepare to provide additional pedagogical training and technology support to faculty to assist in the transition to remote learning should the need arise.

As with all aspects of this pandemic, what I’m sharing here is a high-level overview of the areas in which we are working to formulate our COVID-19 contingency planning.  With each of these broad areas identified above, EC3PA has team members working more granularly to flesh out the various bits and pieces that would need to come together in each area of campus operations. As ever, our commitment is to our students and ensuring that they are able to continue to reach their educational goals while also keeping our campus community as safe as possible. 

Together, we can push through this and help keep our students on track!