Important adjustments to the spring semester due to COVID
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We have all seen the impact in recent weeks of the Omicron surge across the country and here on campus. While the surge is disheartening, the evidence that Omicron typically results in mild or asymptomatic illness in those who are vaccinated and boosted is reassuring, particularly given our community’s extraordinarily high vaccination rate.
Our community’s embrace of our COVID protocols thus far has enabled us to minimize spread and significant illness; it will be important for us to adhere even more stringently to mask-wearing, to testing, and to getting booster shots as soon as eligible. Our impressive vaccination rate is likely to significantly mitigate the degree of illness we experience on campus. However, we should all be prepared to see much higher positivity rates in our COVID testing program due to Omicron.
In order to manage the operational impacts of Omicron to start the semester, Brandeis is also making the following adjustments:
- The first two weeks of classes will be held remotely. Classes will begin as scheduled on Jan. 18 using remote technology; we anticipate shifting back to in-person classes as of Feb. 1. This is a temporary measure that we hope will enable us to return to in-person classes and other activities quickly. We recognize that the number of community members testing positive from this Omicron wave would likely make it difficult for many students to continue to attend in-person in the first few weeks.
- Residence halls will open as planned; however, students may delay their return to campus. Students may return to their on-campus housing as late as Jan. 31 if they would prefer to take their remote classes from another location for those first two weeks.
- Students who reside on campus and who test positive should be prepared to isolate in their own residence hall rooms. The university has limited isolation spaces available. Decisions regarding isolation space assignments will be made on a case-by-case basis based on clinical risk factors.
- Booster requirement update: The most effective tool we have at reducing the severity of COVID infections remains vaccinations, and the data continue to show that booster shots are key to minimizing the impact of Omicron. Therefore, we are moving the deadline by which students, faculty, and staff must submit documentation of their COVID booster to January 25 (previously Feb. 15). Those who are not yet eligible must submit documentation of their booster within 30 days of eligibility, and religious and medical exemptions will continue to be honored and available.
Please wait for additional instructions on where and when to upload your booster shot documentation (or exemption request) – do not upload booster documentation to the Campus Passport.
- Additional Booster Clinics. Additional on-campus booster shot clinics are being scheduled this month to ensure all community members can meet the Jan. 25 deadline. Watch for additional announcements and updates to the COVID-19 Response website for more information. Any student who received a non-FDA approved vaccine will receive additional vaccine and booster guidance in the next few weeks.
- Dining halls will be grab-and-go for all through Jan. 31. More details regarding dining hall procedures to follow.
- Isolation times will follow updated CDC guidance on a case-by-case basis, as determined by medical providers. This could include a shorter isolation period for fully-vaccinated, positive, and asymptomatic individuals (or individuals whose symptoms are resolving).
Testing prior to returning
- As a courtesy to one another, we strongly encourage all faculty, staff, and students to take a PCR or rapid test just prior to their first day back on campus. Our asymptomatic testing site in the Shapiro Science Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday (and Sunday beginning Jan. 16), and is a resource to anyone with an active Campus Passport (you must have a green or yellow passport to come to campus). You are welcome to come to campus before your return to take a test and ensure you are negative prior to engaging in on-campus activities, if it is convenient for you to do so.
Please note: only asymptomatic individuals should test at Brandeis’ testing centers.
- A reminder that residential students are required to submit a negative PCR or rapid test prior to their arrival on campus; students living off-campus are strongly encouraged to do so. Residential students received an email through MyHousing that will enable them to upload evidence of negative tests. It is our hope that by giving students more flexibility in their return date, it will become easier to test prior to return.
- Please do all you can to ensure that you know your COVID status before returning to Brandeis. Those who test positive to COVID may not travel to or come to campus until they have been cleared by the Brandeis Community Tracing Program. All students will be required to test as soon as they come to campus, as they have in previous semesters.
- COVID over the break. If you tested positive with a non-Brandeis test or were diagnosed with COVID over the break, notify the Brandeis Case Tracing Program at firstname.lastname@example.org so that your return to campus can be managed. If you are contacted by BCTP, you must respond.
- Work From Home extended to Tuesday, Feb. 1. Non-essential staff who are working from home this week should plan to continue to work from home until Tuesday Feb. 1, and then resume their on-campus work per their department’s approved return-to-campus plan. Please consider coming to campus prior to returning on the 1st to test, or test at home with a rapid test to ensure you are negative prior to working on campus. We encourage managers to exercise flexibility for staff who may face challenges imposed by the increase in the COVID case rate (child care, elder care, etc.).
- Indoor meetings and gatherings/events: effective immediately, food or beverages will not be allowed to be served at in-person events. Also, participants in all meetings must be masked, including in lounges and meeting rooms, regardless of the number of people gathering.
- More on masks: Given the transmissibility of Omicron, wearing your mask properly has never been more important. Please review the CDC’s guidelines for mask-wearing, and be prepared to follow them on campus. We strongly encourage community members to consider using surgical masks or respirators (KN95 and KF94) to further enhance protection.
Vaccinations, boosters, testing, masking, and compliance with our campus guidelines have helped to mitigate the impact and spread of COVID on our campus thus far. The transmissibility of Omicron presents challenges to us as we begin to understand how we will be living with COVID both now and into the future. Please continue to check the COVID-19 Response website for more details about these changes as well as updated policies, protocols, and guidance for our campus during this surge.
We are deeply grateful to the Brandeis community for everyone’s ongoing efforts to keep each other safe throughout the many challenges and changes we’ve experienced since March 2020. Thanks to your partnership, we have been able to continue the important work of our teaching and research mission since then. The resilience everyone has displayed has inspired us time and again, and we hope you are inspired by each other as well. Thank you for all you bring to Brandeis.
Ron Liebowitz, President
Carol A. Fierke, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Stew Uretsky, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration
Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice President of Student Affairs