January 4, 2022
I am writing to prepare us all for the start of our fifth semester in a pandemic. As I write this, I am thinking of the many lives devastated and even lost during the last nearly two years—so many of our close friends and family have suffered unimaginable losses—and sometimes, it seems like too much to bear. At these times, I am so thankful for our Vassar family, and I am reminded of the values that have undergirded our pandemic response since the beginning: our commitment to protecting our most vulnerable, our aspiration to promote equity when we can, and our dedication to pursuing the highest quality liberal arts education in a diverse and inclusive setting.
Navigating the last four semesters has revealed the importance of a holistic view of health that includes physical health, emotional health, and social health. I have heard from students and employees including faculty how critical it is for us to be able to gather, eat together, be in class together, and socialize—and we want to support these needs while doing so in ways that minimize COVID-19 transmission risk. Based on the best epidemiologic data available and our population in which vaccination rates exceed 99% of all eligible for vaccination, we expect COVID-19 cases to potentially be higher than in previous semesters but relatively mild and highly unlikely to require hospitalization.
We thought about delaying the start of classes; however, given the lack of certainty of when COVID-19 threats will subside, we did not think a delay later than January 19 (which is close to the date of many schools’ delayed starting date) would obviate the challenges we face. We also considered having a remote or hybrid semester (either starting remote or being completely remote); nevertheless, we have all experienced the impact of this on the community’s emotional and social health and have heard overwhelmingly from students and faculty that in-person education is a priority. Last, I am painfully aware that no plan will satisfy all of us and that we are managing in an environment of “second bests,” where what we really want—the pandemic to be over—is not available to us. I hope given this, we will all remember to be kind, to show compassion, and to realize that this pandemic time is temporary. It will pass, and we will emerge in new ways, in ways that make us more resilient and cohesive as a learning community that has weathered a storm, together.
In this context, we are excited to welcome students back to campus to begin in-person classes as scheduled on Wednesday, January 19!
Following are important procedures to review before coming to campus:
Student move-in days are January 15-18. Check in at the ROC in Main between the hours of 9am-5pm. Students must have a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within 24 hours of arrival on campus and must present the negative test result and booster vaccine information at the ROC in Main before attaining keys for move in. If a student arrives without a negative COVID-19 test and if Health Services is closed, the student will be sent to the hotel until testing is available.
Please expedite the move-in process by uploading test and booster vaccine information to Medicat ahead of time.
Note: students who have had COVID-19 do not need testing until after 90 days of their last positive COVID-19 test.
IF YOU HAVE COVID-19 SYMPTOMS, even if you tested negative for COVID-19, please DO NOT return to campus. Instead, call Health Services, who will clear you to return once symptoms have resolved.
Students will also be required to be tested 3-5 days after arriving on campus. Immediate testing will be available for people with symptoms and contacts. We are making every effort to make routine, voluntary testing available for people who are asymptomatic and will make this schedule available before the start of the semester. MOST IMPORTANT: if one has symptoms at any time, please be tested at Health Services immediately. For employees, the county has opened up COVID-19 testing at JC Penney’s in Poughkeepsie, and we are encouraged to be tested if symptomatic or a contact; we are not sure yet if testing will be available for employees on campus as supplies seem to be limited at the moment. We will update as these become available.
Isolation (for students testing positive)
Vassar will be following the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which have been supported by the New York State Department of Health and our county public health officials. People who test positive must isolate for at least five days and until symptoms resolve. If symptoms are resolved, after five days, people may return to campus (for students, with clearance from Health Services) and must mask indoors as per campus procedures.
Self-quarantine (for people who are deemed to be contacts)
If the contact has had a booster, or has completed a primary vaccine series with Pfizer or Moderna within the past six months or with the J&J vaccine within the past two months:
Contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 are not required to self-quarantine but must be tested on day five after exposure and must continue to wear a mask as per campus guidelines. If symptomatic, the contact should be tested immediately.
If the contact has NOT had a booster or completed a primary vaccine series with Pfizer or Moderna longer than 6 months ago or with J&J vaccine longer than two months ago:
Contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 are required to self-quarantine for five days and must be tested on day five after exposure and must wear a mask as per campus guidelines. If symptomatic, the contact should be tested immediately.
As in previous semesters during the pandemic, students who are unable to attend class must be in touch with the Dean of Studies, who will let faculty know that the student is excused from class. Faculty will accommodate excused students to support them in attaining the information they may have missed in class.
These are required for students and employees who do not already have medical or religious exemptions. If one has recently recovered from COVID-19, the booster is required within 90 days of one’s last positive COVID-19 test. If students need help finding a booster, contact Health Services. Employees will be reminded by email from Human Resources about the required timing of their booster.
We are aware that some people are not yet eligible for their booster vaccine based on the timing of the completion of their primary series. These people are expected to obtain the booster vaccine within 30 days of becoming eligible.
Please mask (we recommend with a surgical or KN-95 mask) inside except when eating or drinking, exercising, or alone in a private work or living area. Students may also unmask inside their room or apartment with roommates or apartment mates. Masking is not required outside.
Dining at Gordon Commons will be grab-n-go through January 22 (after which everyone will have completed their on-campus testing). Starting January 23, Gordon Commons will be available for indoor dining only with reduced density and masking except for when one is eating or drinking. Use the Vassar app to track how crowded Gordon Commons is and to help avoid crowds. Grab-n-go dining will continue to be available from the Retreat, Express, and food trucks for the rest of the semester.
Events may take place, as approved by Campus Activities or Dean of Faculty office. Please refrain from serving food or drinks at meetings or events until further notice; masking is required at all indoor meetings or events.
Leaving campus is permitted; however, we strongly recommend people limit travel when they can and limit socializing off campus, as the prevalence of COVID-19 in Dutchess county is very high currently with 600-800 new cases per day.
Thank you for your continued efforts to support this community. We are in challenging times, and we are being asked to rededicate ourselves to this collective effort to sustain through the pandemic. The semester will require stamina, patience, strength, and compassion—and we will get through this together.
See you on campus soon,
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604