Dear UMW community,
In the two weeks since the COVID team shared updates about our COVID-19 plan for the spring semester, many developments have emerged. The Omicron variant has become the most prevalent strain of the coronavirus in the United States, Virginia saw the highest seven-day average of new cases this week, and the positivity rate in the Rappahannock Area region is over 20 percent. Furthermore, the CDC released new guidance that affects the amount of time an individual must isolate or quarantine and expands quarantine to include exposed individuals who are eligible to receive a booster, but haven’t yet done so.
This week, our Public Health team has gathered information from other institutions in Virginia, consulted with healthcare partners, and met to make additional recommendations for the spring semester.
- Booster Mandate. Effective immediately, UMW is requiring booster shots within 14 days of eligibility for all faculty, staff, and students. Faculty, staff and students who are currently eligible for a booster will be required to provide proof of booster by Monday, January 10. If you are not yet eligible for the booster (less than six months from second dose of Moderna/Pfizer vaccine or less than two months from J&J vaccine), you will be expected to receive the booster as soon as you are eligible and upload an updated vaccination card within 14 days of eligibility. Individuals who have a waiver on file will be exempt from this requirement. Regardless of circumstance, all UMW community members are expected to complete the Qualtrics survey which will come this week to your UMW address as an email invitation. For those with medical concerns about the booster shot, please consult your physician.
- Entry Testing. As shared in the previous message from the COVID team, VDH will be providing entry testing on Sunday, January 9, in the Anderson Center. Our testing partner will be utilizing PCR tests, so results will not be immediately available. All students who are not fully vaccinated as well as any student who lives on campus, regardless of vaccination status, are required to participate. Off-campus students who are fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to participate. Sign up for entry testing can be found here. Students who are already on campus or arriving prior to January 9 will participate in entry testing on January 9 as well. Students should limit their exposure to other individuals to the greatest extent possible until test results are received. They should avoid large social gatherings or situations where masks are not being worn during in-person interactions. Questions or concerns should be directed to email@example.com.
- First Week of Classes. Since entry testing results will not be available for 24-48 hours, all classes on Monday, January 10 through Wednesday, January 12 will take place virtually. This will give the contact tracing team time to make notifications and further assess campus conditions. Residential students should still plan to arrive on campus on Sunday, January 9, and participate in entry testing.
- Symptom Tracking. One of the greatest COVID threats to the UMW community is the dismissal of symptoms. Any student or employee who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should refrain from returning to campus until they get tested and checked in with a health professional. COVID-19 symptoms are similar to many other illnesses, so it is imperative that assumptions are not made about the cause of your cough, fever, sore throat, congestion, etc.
- Isolation/Quarantine Protocols. The CDC has updated their guidance for isolation and quarantine which shortens the period for individuals who are asymptomatic (or where symptoms are resolving) to five days, with an additional five days of strict mask wearing. The guidance also expands quarantine to include vaccinated individuals who have a known exposure and are eligible for the booster, but have not yet received it. Our contact tracing team will be working to implement these new protocols which include many complexities we previously have not had to manage. Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
- Dining. With the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, dining in public settings continues to be one of the highest risk activities. The very nature of eating and drinking requires the removal of masks, and a college dining setting has many people in close proximity of one another without masks. For the start of the semester, all dining at UMW will be provided as “grab and go” options. Students are strongly encouraged to minimize the number of people they eat with until we get past the peak of the current surge.
- Masking. In the COVID team’s previous message, we shared that our indoor mask mandate would continue for the spring semester. Beyond vaccines, masks are the most important tool we have for reducing the spread of COVID-19. If you have been using loose-fitting cloth or surgical masks, now is the time to double mask or to upgrade to a better fitting and more protective mask such as a KN95 or equivalent. The omicron variant is more transmissible, and these masks protect you and others. If you have any risk factors or are not fully vaccinated, please consider wearing masks to protect yourself even when not required.
- Events. Multiple mitigation strategies are already in place for many events that occur on campus including requiring proof of vaccination or recent test result, reduced capacity, and requiring mask use. The Public Health Advisory Working Group is keeping a close eye on conditions and will recommend further restrictions if there is little or no improvement. The campus community should consider the risks associated with events and gatherings being hosted and take steps to further mitigate risk during this time of high transmissibility. If your event is not essential to the mission of the University, it may be wise to postpone the event or shift to a virtual format. Planned attendees should be notified of possible cancelations or restrictions to crowd sizes and non-UMW community involvement.
Because conditions are evolving, the Public Health team will continue to evaluate whether additional changes will need to be made as we approach the start of the spring semester.
To close, another word of thanks for all that you have done and will do. We all want this pandemic to be behind us, but we just aren’t there yet. As we have throughout the pandemic, we will make it through this semester by working together and thinking of the needs of others. That is who we are as a university, and it has been remarkably successful in keeping the UMW community protected and safer than other areas. It is by following our guidelines that we enabled the return of in-person experiences for much of the fall semester and by doing so again, we will succeed in the spring semester as well.
Be well, Eagles.
Troy Paino, President
David Fleming, Asst Dean for Residence Life & Housing, Chair of Public Health Advisory Working Group
Juliette Landphair, Vice President for Student Affairs
Jeffrey McClurken, Chief of Staff & UMW COVID Director
Paul Messplay, Vice President for Administration and Finance
Timothy O’Donnell, Provost
Nancy Wang, University Physician