COVID-19 Updates

January 10, 2022

Dear all,

I hope you have had a relaxing winter break, although omicron has been on all our minds and changed many plans. I am looking forward to seeing everyone back on campus soon.

I am writing today to describe some extra precautions we are taking given the current Omicron surge nationally and in Dutchess County. This memo pertains to the early days of the spring semester, beginning with move-in starting Saturday January 15. This early period is critically important for the health and safety of our campus during this time of elevated COVID-19 prevalence. The information below adds to the memo of January 4, 2022, and will be retained as part of the VassarTogether website.

New in this memo is our decision to hold classes online for the first three days as we complete all on-campus testing for students (see below).

Students are still required to return between January 15 and January 18 in order to allow adequate time for on-campus testing prior to classes convening in person. Each student will receive an KN95 mask and a home COVID-19 test kit containing two tests when they pick up keys.

Although all students must have a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test taken 24 hours before arrival on campus, we recognize that traveling to campus may expose students to COVID-19 risk, and we need to take precautions in the first days on campus—with the goal of remaining on campus in-person safely throughout the semester.

Following are the precautionary steps for January 15 through January 24:

  1. Required testing for students 3–5 days after arrival on campus. Post-arrival testing will be conducted at Walker Field House on Monday January 17 through Friday January 21. We are anticipating using a rapid antigen test with greater than 90% sensitivity and 100% specificity. Results will be returned in 15 minutes. Any student who tests positive will isolate, and contact tracing will commence immediately.
  2. Grab-and-go dining in Gordon Commons from Saturday January 15 through Saturday January 22. Grab-and-go dining will continue through expanded hours and menus at the Retreat, the Express, and the food truck beginning on January 23. We anticipate that Gordon Commons will revert to indoor dining, with reduced density, with breakfast on Sunday January 23.
  3. Online classes on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday January 19–January 21. Classes will be online until students have completed both pre-arrival and post-arrival COVID-19 tests ending January 21. We expect classes will be in-person beginning Monday January 24.
  4. Masking is required in all situations indoors (not outdoors) unless alone in a private area or in one’s living space with only roommates or apartment mates or undertaking strenuous exercise. Please make sure to wear a mask that fits properly. N95, KN95, KF94, or double masking with a surgical mask on the inside are strongly recommended. Employees including faculty may request surgical and KN95 masks through departments using the work order (TMA) process, although supplies of KN95 masks may be limited.

Key Messages:

    If you have symptoms, get tested and do not have close contact with anyone. For testing when you have symptoms, contact Health Services to get an appointment; walk-ins will be accepted for urgent medical needs. If students need testing in the evenings, call the CRC. Asymptomatic testing is available Wednesdays and Fridays from 1–4 p.m. in the Aula. See here for FAQ.
    If you have symptoms, stay home and get tested. Let your supervisor know you are unable to come to work. Please remember to complete the daily health assessment. Testing is being made available by the county, and during this time, we will reserve on-campus testing for students and employees who live on campus.
    During these early days on campus together, we should limit close contact. Close contact is being within six feet of others indoors for more than 15 minutes (regardless of whether you are masked). Once we have completed the post-arrival campus testing, it is still wise to limit behaviors in which we have seen the greatest viral transmission (e.g., traveling in cars together, sharing food and drinks, having parties without masks, going out to restaurants or bars).
    Making campus safe for people who are not vaccinated, do not have a booster, or are immunocompromised is a priority. The requirement to mask and recommendation to wear proper-fitting and high-quality masks, access to grab-and-go food, emphasis on social distancing when possible, added health service and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) staffing, and timely testing are policies designed with community members with vulnerabilities in mind. Please let us work to keep everyone safe and healthy.

After January 22:

We must be prepared for having more COVID-19 cases than we have had in previous semesters, and we may need to make temporary policy changes in the course of the semester.

The number of COVID-19 cases on campus is always important, and every case is one of concern. At the same time, important for understanding COVID-19 spread is the pattern of cases, not just the number of cases. For instance, 50 cases in which most close contacts test negative signals that the virus is contained; whereas 50 cases in which each person has more contacts who subsequently tested positive is not contained. Thus, as we make decisions throughout the semester, we will be considering the number of cases, the contact transmission rate, and the context of each case. From these data, we will modify and adapt, because our priority is limiting COVID-19 spread on campus.

Please talk with friends, colleagues, and family as you plan for the semester. Having a plan for how to support your own health and the community’s health in the broadest sense will be helpful to all.

I am confident we can get through this semester if we work together. Each of us needs to be vigilant and committed. Remind each other of these practices (e.g., testing when symptomatic, masking, avoiding high-risk behaviors), and when you are reminded, please thank the person who reminded you. We need each other.

Thank you so very much, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

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