UMass Amherst Announces Operating Plan for Spring 2021 Semester

Strong COVID-19 Testing Program, Strict Adherence to Public Health Protocols Emphasized
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The University of Massachusetts Amherst today announced its Spring 2021 operating plan, inviting additional students to return to campus to advance their studies. The plan prioritizes public health and safety, including expansion of the university’s successful COVID-19 testing program.

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, in a message to the campus community, noted, “Our strategic focus is on advancing students’ academic progress toward degree completion while providing a campus environment that meets federal and state health and safety protocols for mitigating COVID-19.” Specific cohorts of undergraduate students will be given the option to live on-campus, representing about 60 percent of the campus’s typical residential population.

The plan builds upon what UMass has learned throughout the course of the pandemic and is guided by the work of stakeholders representing every aspect of the campus who participated in an inclusive and deliberative planning process. Led by a Strategy Group made up of senior campus administrators and co-chaired by the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life, the group included the chairs of seven function-specific Working Groups, as well as the President of the Student Government Association, the President of the Graduate Student Senate and the Secretary of the Faculty Senate.

Full details of the plan can be found at http://www.umass.edu/coronavirus. The Spring Semester starts Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

Subbaswamy, informed by the public health and academic recommendations of the campus Strategy Group, determined that in-person, face-to-face instruction for undergraduate and graduate students will be offered on-campus this spring in certain classes, labs and studios identified as requiring in-person instruction. First-year students may also be provided with a face-to-face instructional opportunity, although the majority of the teaching in the Spring Semester will be fully remote.In addition,specific cohorts of undergraduate students, whose academic success is most closely associated with on-campus learning and living, will be given the option to live on-campus for the Spring Semester. These cohorts include:

  • Students enrolled in mandatory face-to-face classes
  • Students dependent on the university for housing and dining, including international students, as well as students requiring specific academic accommodations or those participating in athletics
  • First-year students and entering transfer students, enrolled in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021

These groups of undergraduate students represent approximately 60 percent of the campus’s usual residential population. Students who decline this invitation would join all other students who will continue to engage in remote learning from their homes or their off-campus residences. The university is also exploring alternative residential options beyond the Amherst area, including increasing the housing capacity on the Mount Ida Campus in Newton.

The chancellor observed, “While I am pleased that a larger percentage of our students will be afforded the opportunity to return to campus and take part in the immersive residential experience, my heart goes out to students to whom we are not able to extend this invitation. Put simply, given the nature of the pandemic, the campus cannot operate at full capacity and adequately provide the virus testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and quarantine and isolation measures necessary while the pandemic continues. However, at 60 percent capacity, we are confident we can provide all of these vital services to our campus community while fulfilling our educational mission.”

Successful COVID-19 Testing Program in Place

The university confidence is bolstered in part, Subbaswamy said, by the success of UMass Amherst’s symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and contact tracing program. The fourth-largest such operation in the state, behind only Boston, Worcester and Cambridge, the UMass testing center has conducted over 100,000 tests since it opened in August and, in conjunction with a comprehensive contact tracing activities, has revealed a cumulative positivity rate of 0.15%, well below most peer institutions as well as the state rate of 0.8%. He added, “And remarkably, as of this writing, there has been only one positive case detected in our current residential population. That is a testament to our students’ commitment to following public health protocols.”

Subbaswamy emphasized that the university’s plan to partially repopulate the campus in the Spring Semester will require strict adherence to updated and expanded protocols. For students, undergraduate and graduate, living in on-campus housing or off-campus in the Amherst area, public health and behavioral standards will be rigorous, and will include the following:

  • Twice weekly asymptomatic virus testing
  • Adaptive testing when warranted
  • Daily self-monitoring and reporting
  • Mandatory face coverings outside personal living spaces
  • Strict social distancing
  • The formation of small social groupings or pods to limit students’ in-person interactions
  • Cooperation with contact tracing
  • Prohibition of guests in residence halls, dining commons, and in other campus buildings
  • Limiting travel away from the immediate campus area for work and/or emergencies only

He said, “We will continue to rely on communication, education and outreach to encourage responsible public health behavior by our students and every member of our campus community. Students are reminded that the Code of Student Conduct applies both on- and off-campus and that compliance with campus directives, including public health protocols, is a requirement.”

The chancellor noted that, “While we do not expect the partial repopulation of the campus’s residential community to have a discernable impact on the size of the off-campus student population in Amherst and the surrounding area, we recognize that local residents are important stakeholders in this process. We are committed to our ongoing collaboration with town leaders, through our town-gown working group and our regular meetings with town administrators and first responders, to ensure that this expansion of campus operations is conducted in a manner that is mindful of the health and wellbeing of the broader community.”

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