Plans for Spring Semester

Also see addendum of Jan. 14

Dear all,

I am writing with less than three weeks before students start returning to campus for the Spring semester. Winter break went by fast! Students move back between February 1st and 10th and classes begin February 17th.

Today, the Dutchess County COVID-19 dashboard shows more than 2,000 active COVID-19 cases and more than 150 hospitalizations.  With the more virulent strain of the coronavirus fast spreading through the country, numbers of cases are expected to rise, and we must be ever vigilant in using simple, effective public health efforts—such as social distancing, masking, avoiding large inside gatherings, and practicing good hand hygiene. The vaccine is starting to roll out, and although college instructors are eligible now, we expect delays due to inadequate supply; furthermore, we have not been given a date for when students will be eligible for the vaccine. We are advocating at the county and state-level for such access.

Thus, we begin our semester with substantial caution, as we did in the fall. Please see below for the protocols to be in place for students’ health and safety. For faculty and all employees, we remain committed to ensuring you can do your jobs safely. Faculty will continue to decide whether to teach remotely or in person (or a combination of each), and many employees may continue to telework using the same procedures we used in the fall.

For those returning to work on campus, please get tested regularly (e.g., every two weeks) and minimize exposure to COVID-19. All of us must mask while on campus and maintain six feet of social distance at all times. We have had a total of 28 employees test positive for COVID-10 since March 2020. Some high-risk activities include large gatherings (particularly indoors) and meal or break times together when people remove masks to eat and drink. Please do not eat or take breaks inside unless you can be six feet apart (given masks are removed to eat and drink), and if you share work space, always keep your mask over nose and mouth (and let’s remind each other to do so), and keep six feet of social distance.

We can get through this with careful attention to effective public health practices and by helping each other along. The VassarTogether website will be updated regularly, including the Vassar dashboard. 

I remain ever so grateful for your courage and devotion to our students and to each other. Please stay safe and healthy, and if you have any questions, let me know. 

Betsy

***Start***

Dear Students,

I am writing to update about the spring semester plans, which have been developed to be in line with the latest guidance from the Center for Disease Prevention & Control (CDC), and state and county public health recommendations and requirements. As you likely know, the Dutchess County COVID-19 dashboard shows more than 2,000 active COVID-19 cases and more than 150 daily hospitalizations.  With the more virulent strain fast spreading through the country, numbers of cases are expected to rise, and we must be ever vigilant in using simple, effective public health efforts such as social distancing, masking, avoiding large inside gatherings, and practicing good hand hygiene. The vaccine is starting to roll out, and we are actively advocating to gain access to it; however, we have not been given a date for when students will be eligible for the vaccine.

Despite the many challenges of COVID-19, we are eager to have a meaningful semester; our approach seeks to support the physical and mental health of our students, faculty, and non-faculty employees throughout the semester. We appreciated all the survey responses and other notes explaining what students felt were important to their quality of life on campus this semester, and we sought to shape the plan to be safe and also responsive to students’ suggestions.

Below are several protocols we will be following.  We will continue to keep the VassarTogether website as up to date as possible.  We may temporarily suspend or adjust certain protocols if we see a spike in the on-campus positivity rate.

Beginning two weeks before your campus arrival, please be careful to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

Date of arrival

  • The date of your planned arrival depends on your 999 number. Please refer to Dean Inoa’s December 11, 2020 email for specific return dates. If you need to make a change in your assigned date of arrival, please reach out to Dean Inoa at Inoa@Vassar.edu
  • Students are expected to arrive between February 1 and February 10. Students needing to arrive after February 10 must request special permission, which will only be granted for health considerations or international travel difficulties.

International students

  • We recognize that flights and various travel restrictions may make returning more complicated for international students, and we will be as flexible as possible on dates of arrival. Please reach out to Dean Inoa (Inoa@Vassar.edu) to request special arrangements.
  • Per recent CDC guidance, students travelling by air into the United States are required to provide evidence (paper or electronic) of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of their flight.
  • The latest international students may arrive on campus is March 7.

Pre-arrival and ongoing testing

  • All students are required to have taken a COVID-19 test (antigen or PCR) in the three days before arrival. You need not have the results to come to campus. Information about how to upload your pre-arrival test information will be forthcoming.
  • On the day of arrival, students will be given both a rapid antigen test (15-minute results) and the more sensitive PCR test (generally returned in two or three days).
  • Once the rapid test is returned negative, you may move into your room. If it comes back positive, you will be asked to stay in an isolation room until we confirm the result with the PCR test.
  • All students will be tested again on campus on the fourth day after their arrival; this test will be a PCR test (generally returned in two or three days).
  • We expect students will have had two on-campus PCR tests and the results returned by February 17.
  • If you are not able to obtain a COVID-19 test within three days prior to arrival, New York State requires you self-quarantine, and you are, as of now, not allowed to “test out” of this self-quarantine. For this 10-day period, we will assign you a self-quarantine room either on campus or in a nearby hotel.
  • During the semester, all students will be tested on campus at least every two weeks. Test periodicity may change based on campus and community positivity rates.
  • Students who have had the COVID-19 vaccine will still need to be tested as above.
  • Students who have had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days should let Health Services know in order to develop a testing plan for the semester.

Campus life before two negative on-campus COVID-19 PCR tests are returned:

Before two negative on-campus COVID-19 PCR tests are returned, students may gather unmasked only with their roommates and apartment-mates inside their room or apartment. Otherwise students must keep six feet of social distance and wear masks at all times (except when alone inside). Groups of up to 10 people may gather outdoors, masked and keeping six feet of social distance. If approved by the relevant department of Campus Activities, students may gather outside in groups of up to 25 people, with masks and socially distancing. Indoor spaces—other than the Library, the Old Bookstore, the Affinity Centers, and the Villard Room—will largely be closed. Dining will be Grab n’ Go until all students have been tested twice on campus.

Campus life once students have had two negative on-campus PCR tests, which we anticipate will be around February 17th, will follow these protocols:

Expanded Podding

  • After students have received negative results from two on-campus COVID-19 PCR tests, they will be allowed to pod.
  • In a pod, students do not have to maintain six feet of distance from each other or wear masks; however, if one person in the pod tests positive for COVID-19, all other students in the pod are likely to be deemed close contacts and will need to self-quarantine for 10 days, regardless of their test results.
  • Pods may include up to six students, and pods may include students in different dormitories; however, IDs will work only in one’s own dormitory. Students may visit pod-mates in other dormitories but must be invited and swiped in by their pod-mate.  For specific issues or podding problems, please be in touch with your house advisor or Dean Inoa (Inoa@vassar.edu).
  • Roommates and apartment-mates must be in the same pod.
  • If anyone from outside the pod is present, then everyone must follow regular protocols of six feet of social distancing and masking.

Indoor gathering and spaces

  • Gatherings for any reason inside should be limited to 10 people or the COVID-19 density limit displayed in the room.
  • Gatherings that include more than one’s pod require six feet of social distancing, masking, and abiding by room density limits by all gathered.
  • Many spaces will be open to reserve (e.g., Rocky, Blodgett, Chicago Hall, and Sanders Classroom), with social distancing and masking requirements.
  • The Athletic and Fitness Center (AFC) and some other fitness facilities will be open for recreational use with COVID-19 protocols.
  • Many buildings have now been equipped with MERV 13 HVAC systems, to improve ventilation. 

Outdoor activities

  • Outdoor gatherings may be up to 10 people, masked and with six feet of social distance (unless everyone at the gathering is in the same pod).
  • If approved by the relevant department of Campus Activities, larger outdoor gatherings may include up to 25 people, with masks and six feet of social distance (unless everyone at the gathering is in the same single pod).
  • Outdoor exercise/recreation must be in groups of six or fewer; everyone must mask and keep six feet of social distance (unless everyone is in the same pod).

Dining

  • Dining will be available in Gordon Commons beginning on February 1 for Grab n' Go dining.
  • The second and third floors in Gordon Commons will open on February 17 and expand to include the first floor of Gordon Commons beginning the week of February 22. 
  • All Retail operations (i.e., The Retreat, Street Eats, the Bridge Cafe and the Pop-Up Market) will open on February 8. Seating areas adjacent to the Retreat area will be adjusted to social distance and will be limited to one chair and table per person.

Self-quarantine and isolation

  • If a student tests positive, they will be isolated in one of our buildings devoted to students with COVID-19. Students will be supported with daily contact from Health Services. On-site EMS personnel will check on students in isolation during evening hours. Isolation will last for 10 days or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer. The Centers for Prevention & Disease Control (CDC) and county public health department do not recommend additional viral testing of students once they have a positive PCR test for at least 90 days after the positive test.
  • Upon a positive test, all contacts of the student will be immediately traced. People deemed to be close contacts will be tested and self-quarantined for 10 days, and asked to monitor symptoms closely for 14 days. During self-quarantine, ordered food will be delivered and students may not have physical contact or leave their self-quarantine assigned rooms except to exercise as per below. Students in self-quarantine will receive a daily email or text, a weekly phone call, and support as needed from Health Services.
  • Students in self-quarantine can also reserve a time with Safety & Security for a walk at the Farm & Ecological Preserve.
  • Depending on the need, we may use hotel rooms for self-quarantine, as was done occasionally during the fall semester.
  • If students are deemed a close contact but have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days and have recovered, they will not need to self-quarantine; however, based on current guidelines, students who are close contacts still need to self-quarantine even if they have had the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • After-hours medical and mental health support is available through the Nurse Triage Line (accessed by calling Health Services) as well as through the services of an on-campus Emergency Medical Technician (accessed by calling the CRC).

Unauthorized parties/gatherings and consequences

  • Our first concern is the health of our community; those found to be hosting parties or having other gatherings that do not meet social distancing and masking expectations will be interviewed to understand the magnitude of the health threat of their actions. If needed for the health and safety of the campus, students involved in such activities may be self-quarantined, so that they are separated from others while we assess if they have COVID-19. They will be PCR tested on the fourth day after the event, and if negative, allowed to return to their assigned room.
  • Depending on the severity and repetitive nature of the circumstances, students may also undergo student conduct, up to and including being required to not live on campus and study remotely for the remainder of the semester.

Leaving campus and visitors

  • Students will be expected to remain on campus.
  • Exceptions (e.g., for medical or family reasons) may be made and pre-authorization for a planned departure from campus can be attained through Erika Pappas (EPappas@Vassar.edu), Director of Case Management.
  • In general, visitors may not come to campus. We will have various vendors and others come to campus for essential activities, but personal friends and family may not visit, in order to minimize excess risk of exposure.

Classes

  • We expect classes will include a combination of in-person and remote learning, based on the professor’s design of the class and/or laboratory.
  • Please check with your professors to learn how their classes will be formatted.
  • Until weather permits, we will not have outdoor tents available. We have arranged to have some firepits for supporting outdoor activities.

Community Care Team

The Community Care Team (CCT) will continue this spring with important modifications based on ongoing student input and involvement. The principles of the CCT continue to be grounded in the phrase “We precedes me.” The CCT seeks to promote safety through educational efforts and by promptly responding to instances of concern. The CCT continues to be made up of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. If you have questions regarding CCT, please reach out to Dean Maragh Taylor, (wmaraghtaylor@vassar.edu).

This is a lot of information to absorb, and we again know that these plans may change due to the epidemiology and public health requirements, which can shift over time. We are looking forward to having you back on campus and are confident that we can be successful in limiting COVID-19 on campus and also creating a supportive learning environment and community for us all. 

With best wishes,

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604
@EHBVassar