Dear Faculty and Staff,
Welcome to the first issue of the Return(ed) to Campus Newsletter of 2021 (note the new moniker, as we’ve returned to campus operations now for some time). Since we last touched base, a few important updates have been communicated to faculty, staff and students as the spring term is underway. I’m looking forward to recapping those here. As in the fall, we’ll be sending these out to faculty and staff each week throughout the entire spring trimester. Let’s get caught up.
Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed
On Aug. 31, when we started the fall term, Massachusetts had relatively low case rates and test positivity. Relatively speaking, the public health metrics at the time were good. As we returned from the winter break in 2021, we were coping with a nation-wide surge in COVID-19 and confirmed case rates in Massachusetts higher than at any other time since the start of the pandemic. We’re starting the spring term more carefully with a longer ease-in period and more rigorous testing, but we are also armed with much more knowledge about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The good news is that as of today, we’ve seen three continuous weeks of improvement in statewide cases and test positivity. It remains a challenging time, but we’re trending in the right direction.
Spring 2021 Ease-In Period
We continue to make progress in our preparations for the start of in-person hybrid classes for the spring 2021 trimester. As expected, some students who have moved onto campus this week have tested positive for the coronavirus. As we continue to monitor our on-campus population in our early screening efforts, and to help us ensure that our community stays as safe as possible as we begin expanding campus access, we will slowly “ease out” of our ease-in period restrictions. In-person hybrid classes will still begin on Monday, Feb. 1. The Library will also open at that time to residential students for resources and studying. Dining at all locations on campus will continue to be take-out only, and facilities such as the Dana Center and Fitness Center will be delayed in their opening.
Changes to Massachusetts Occupancy Limits
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has ended the stay-at-home advisory and lifted the order requiring certain businesses and facilities to close at 9:30 p.m., but stricter occupancy limits are extended until Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, at 5:00 a.m. As was asked on Jan. 11, faculty and staff should continue to work remotely whenever possible, coming to campus only if necessary. Our classrooms are not affected by the governor's order and are already operating at strict occupancy limits to ensure health and safety on campus. In-person instruction will begin on schedule on Monday, Feb. 1.
Please continue to check with your supervisors and vice presidents if you wish to access campus at any time this spring.
Twice Weekly Testing
Over the past few weeks, residential students were required to undergo pre-arrival testing before coming to campus for their scheduled move-in date. As an added measure, residential students will be required to test twice weekly beginning next week until at least Feb. 25. In addition to residential students, some employees who have close interactions with students and others on campus will also be required to test twice per week during that same timeframe. Vice presidents will communicate within their divisions to determine who on campus may require an additional weekly test.
Since the start of this month, 31 positive cases have been reported on the dashboard. With 4,530 total tests administered, that leaves us at a 0.71% positivity rate. Pre-arrival tests are not included in dashboard data and residential students who test positive in a pre-arrival test complete their isolation before returning to campus.
Looking forward to sharing more with the community as the spring moves forward. As in the fall, it’ll take our collective efforts to make sure we see this term through.
Until next week,
Geoffrey C. Bartlett, CEM
Director of Emergency Management