Following my announcement last week that the University was preparing a phased reopening plan, I now wish to share the reopening plan and to outline the key aspects of it.
Our goal continues to be to strike a balance between protecting the community and minimizing disruption. I believe the reopening plan achieves that balance while providing the necessary guidance that individual units will need to implement a phased return to operations. It is important to reiterate, however, that as we begin to relax the protective measures that have led to successful management of the virus, the risk of a spike in positive cases does increase.
One plan, four phases
In brief, we see the entire COVID crisis through the lens of four phases. The first phase, which we are in now, has been entirely focused on stopping the spread of the disease. We are only considering a reopening at this time because Phase 1 has been such a success. But I must emphasize: unless we collectively abide by the recommended physical distancing, face covering and other mitigation measures, we might have to return to Phase 1 if we have a resurgence of cases.
For now, we plan to transition to Phase 2 on Thursday, May 28.
This is our provisional reopening plan, and is, of course, subject to a continuation of the best practices in the community and on campus. It is up to each one of us to ensure that physical distancing behaviors are still observed, and that all of the work we have put in thus far is built upon.
Movement through the phases
During Phase 2, some operations and services will begin to resume in a managed fashion. However, some physical distancing measures and COVID-19 prevention behaviors will still be observed and monitored. Public hygiene practices will be increased from normal pre-COVID-19 levels, deep cleanings on shared spaces will become more routine.
It is important to point out that the recommendation is that the external gates to enter KAUST are not reopened in Phase 2. However, there is a clear requirement that some aspects of reopening activities at KAUST will require external people and service providers to enter KAUST. This will be achieved through strong risk management processes and monitoring of adherence to guidelines.
Once there is confidence that Phase 2 has not had a negative impact on virus prevalence in KAUST then Phase 3 can begin. Phase 3 provides that wider access to KAUST from external locations can be approved, and greater social activities could be allowed. Monitoring of the virus, and individuals, will still remain and some physical distancing and preventative measures will be kept in place.
We will consider ourselves ready to move into Phase 4 when safe and effective tools for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 are available, including broad surveillance and/or a safe and effective vaccine. Phase 4 is likely to be a longer term goal and will only be reached when the regional COVID-19 confirmed case rate has seen a long-term period of minimal transmission.
The KC3 is also making plans for a more extensive testing regime to support the gradual relaxation set out in the reopening plan, as this takes effect it will be comprehensively communicated to the community.
In tandem with the phased roll-out of the reopening plan, the Keep KAUST safe campaign will provide advice and direction on the workplace and physical distancing and behaviors that will be required to avoid new cases. A community-wide information campaign will be shared that emphasizes these behaviors for each phase of the reopening plan.
I urge you to familiarize yourself with the plan over the coming days and to abide by the admittedly limited reduction in restrictions as the plan takes effect. I appreciate and I share the natural frustration with the confinement in which we currently live and work. However, as previously stated, we now know how well these restrictions have served us and protected KAUST through what continues to be a very challenging time.
Let us stay stronger together. I wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing Eid!
Tony F. Chan