Dear Campus Community,
The university has been deeply engaged in the implementation phase of our Fall 2020 Reopening over the past three weeks following the announcement of our reopening plan June 29th. Today, I am writing to share a detailed update on our extensive preparations for the start of classes about a month from now on August 24th.
I want to emphasize that UMass is using the best science and public health information available to protect the health of our community, which includes our campus as well as Amherst and the surrounding towns. We are working closely with our neighbors and campus community partners to meet the unprecedented challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created.
It is important to reiterate that life on campus during fall 2020 will not be anything resembling normal college life. The public health risk from the pandemic is real. To meet this challenge, we are adopting a comprehensive set of testing protocols and a commitment to healthy behaviors that applies to students living in residence halls as well as those choosing to rent properties in Amherst and nearby towns. We believe these measures provide the best path forward to educate our students. I am hopeful our extensive planning, and our community’s vigilance and commitment to public health, will lead to a full semester of education on campus this fall. However, we all recognize that a high incidence of COVID-19 could develop during the semester, and we may be forced to shift to an entirely remote mode of operation, with the closure of residence halls and campus facilities.
Size of the Student Population
As a result of our our decision to conduct all teaching online (except for essential labs, studio performances, etc.), many students who will be engaged in remote learning have opted not to return to campus for the fall semester. We expect to operate at or below 60 percent residential capacity on campus. Meanwhile, we see no indication of beyond-normal demand for rentals in Amherst. To date, the reopening plan’s strategic approach to reduce the overall student population is on track.
UMass plans to implement wide-ranging testing protocols to protect the health and safety of the community, adopting practices that go well beyond federal and state recommendations. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently do not recommend testing of asymptomatic individuals without known exposure to a person with COVID-19. However, in these unprecedented times, we are committed to spending millions for additional testing, plus investments in staffing, because we believe they will produce valuable data upon which we can act promptly to safeguard public health.
As we prepare for the fall semester and the start of classes August 24, our intention is to test all students, whether living on or off campus, prior to their arrival or shortly after their arrival on campus or to the Amherst area. Students tested prior to arrival must show proof of a negative test taken within the previous 72 hours. In addition, students arriving from 42 states identified by Governor Baker must self-quarantine for 14 days. The university will offer quarantine space for these students if needed, whether they live in residence halls or off campus.
We then intend to conduct weekly surveillance testing of all students living in residence halls as well as off-campus students who have face-to-face classes or a campus meal plan. To further monitor the off-campus population, and students in residence halls, we will conduct additional adaptive testing of specific populations as recommended by our epidemiology advisory group.
Symptomatic monitoring and testing will occur throughout the semester. Students will conduct a daily self-screening, and those with any COVID-19 symptoms, living either on or off-campus, will be expected to report them. They will be tested at University Health Services and related contact tracing will occur in coordination with Town of Amherst health officials, a procedure already in place.
For on-campus students, the university will provide isolation and quarantine space. Students who are residents of Amherst are required to create their own isolation and quarantine plan, with return to their home community the recommended option whenever possible.
For employees, on-campus work will look different — with the university exploring different options to lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus. Importantly, many staff members will be asked to continue to work remotely through the end of the calendar year.
Symptomatic monitoring through a daily self-screening and related testing will continue for employees who work on campus, following the process in place since March for on-site workers. The university has been having ongoing discussions about its reopening with the various labor unions that represent employees, and we expect additional protocols will be in place that support asymptomatic testing.
An Articulation of Students’ Responsibility
The UMass Amherst Community Agreement is an articulation of students’ responsibility to take conscious steps to protect the health and safety of the members of our community with whom they interact. The Agreement relies on all members of the campus community doing their part to protect the health and wellbeing of themselves and others.
All students coming to campus, whether they live on or off campus, are required to sign the Agreement. Off-campus students living in the Amherst area will be required to provide the university a local address, which will improve contact tracing. Students engaged in remote learning, who choose not to return to campus or the surrounding area, are encouraged to sign the Agreement as well.
To underscore the importance of this initiative, the university will launch a comprehensive public education campaign about its importance and the responsible behaviors that we expect of all our students, wherever they reside.
Our approach will draw upon successful outreach initiatives that we have in place as well as university-town partnerships. These include proactive outreach from university officials, Amherst Police and Amherst Inspections to off-campus students; outreach to Amherst residents and landlords; follow-up on noise and nuisance calls; party registration; on-call meetings with public safety officials; and rigorous health and safety enforcement by the Town.
Education and prevention will be our most effective strategies. In addition, as we have done over the past six years, we will supplement our partnership and outreach initiatives by continuing to apply relevant campus policies, including the Code of Student Conduct, to persistent or egregious violations of the Agreement.
We will continue to share implementation updates in the coming weeks. I encourage you to visit our reopening website, which provides the latest news and an expanding list of FAQs on a number of topics.
I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for the extraordinary work being done to launch our fall reopening, and to the entire campus community as we discuss, engage and prepare for the extraordinary challenge we have before us.
Kumble R. Subbaswamy