Since we announced our Return to Campus plans in May and June, the COVID-19 situation has continued to evolve. We want to assure you that we are monitoring all developments closely and are continuing to plan for students to return to campus as safely as possible. As discussed in the virtual town halls on the medical aspects of COVID-19 held on Saturday, July 18, we continue to gather recommendations from the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to seek guidance from nationally renowned public health experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and our School of Nursing. We will be vigilant and will not hesitate to make changes should they be needed.
Based on this guidance and these recommendations, we have finalized many new important actions for the fall semester to prepare our campus and to protect the health and safety of our community as much as possible. The four main tenets of our day-to-day plan for preventing the spread of COVID-19 are critically important: At all times, wear face coverings/masks, physically distance at least 6 feet, avoid large gatherings, and regularly wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. We also will deploy robust testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation protocols. However, it is the actions we each take as individuals—both on campus and off campus—that will have the most immediate and long-lasting impact. Below you will find more detailed information for faculty, as well as some of the details specific to our students, that I know will be helpful as you plan for the fall semester.
I know these are difficult circumstances for all of us to navigate. I also assure you that I am listening to your feedback and input, which is coming through town halls, emails and the working groups charged with developing plans to ensure a successful fall semester. I take great comfort in the fact that the deans of every school and college are working collaboratively to respond to faculty needs. Through all of this uncertainty, we will remain devoted to our values and our mission of advancing collaborative learning and discovery in a residential research university. As much as our campus community adapted in innovative ways last spring, we are committed to providing the best possible education experience for all of our students and supporting our faculty in their scholarly efforts. The experiences that take place and the relationships we build with each other during classes and activities, and when making discoveries, form the very building blocks of our One Vanderbilt culture. Thank you for your patience, your flexibility and your commitment to our great university community.
Testing and contact tracing
As part of the health and safety guidelines to safely return to campus, all undergraduates are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 14 days prior to arrival on campus for the first time. For this pre-arrival testing, COVID-19 test kits will be mailed to most undergraduate students’ current location. These test kits are a self-administered shallow nasal swab that will come with detailed instructions. These test kits are designed to help our undergraduate students meet the requirement in the Return to Campus Plan to complete pre-arrival testing. One of the goals of this requirement is to reduce the potential for asymptomatic, infected undergraduates to arrive on campus.
This process will enable Vanderbilt to access test results electronically, which eliminates the need for students to submit their results themselves. The test kits also eliminate the need and potential challenge for undergraduate students to find asymptomatic testing in different locations across the U.S., which is available at varying levels.
If a student tests positive from the pre-arrival test kit, that student will remain in isolation at home and start all classes remotely until they can provide a health care provider’s release form stating they have completed the required isolation time period. If a student does not send in their test kit, then the student will start classes remotely and cannot engage in any campus activities until they can be tested on campus and receive a negative test result. If a student has a negative test result from the pre-arrival test kit, the student can start classes in person when they arrive on campus.
Post-arrival testing of the entire undergraduate student body will occur within four weeks of the start of the semester. VU will set up a testing center at the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center in partnership with VUMC and the School of Nursing. This comprehensive testing program, along with the pre-arrival testing information, will provide important population health data to inform continued decisions for possible random or periodic testing throughout the fall. Random testing will allow the university to monitor community disease in a more effective, statistically significant way over time.
All students who test positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate as directed by the Student Health Center until they are recovered.To determine the risk of potential exposure to others on campus, the Vanderbilt Public Health Unified Command Center (PHUCC), a partnership between the School of Nursing Nurse Faculty Practice Division and Student Health, will conduct contact tracing with any student who has tested positive and will provide appropriate notifications across VU communities. By launching this robust in-house contact tracing capability, developed as a collaboration with experts at VUMC, the School of Nursing and Metro Public Health, Vanderbilt will ensure timely and coordinated contact tracing between campus and the Nashville community.
For graduate and professional students, postdocs, staff and faculty, we are not requiring pre-arrival testing before coming to campus. Unlike the undergraduate students, all of our graduate and professional students, postdocs, staff and faculty live off campus (with the limited exception of those involved in the residential program). There are different risks that need to be mitigated for residential undergraduate students, as well as their classmates who are living off campus and with whom they have a high degree of interaction within student organizations and other campus activities.
Faculty, staff and postdocs who have symptoms related to COVID-19 or have been officially notified that they are a close contact to a COVID-19 positive person must call the Occupational Health Center (OHC) and also may contact their primary care provider. Graduate and professional students must call the Student Health Center (SHC). If OHC/SHC or the primary care provider’s office is not open and the symptoms are severe enough, faculty should go to the VUMC emergency department. If symptoms are not severe enough to require emergency attention, it is extremely important to avoid all contact with others, wear a mask, and practice strict hand hygiene while awaiting OHC/SHC or the primary care provider’s office to open for assessment and COVID-19 testing as the provider determines. OHC/SHC and/or the primary care provider will instruct faculty on appropriate next steps. While awaiting test results, faculty must remain off campus in quarantine and keep their department chair/lead researcher informed of their return-to-campus status.
At the current time, asymptomatic testing is not routinely recommended by the CDC and the American College Health Association for individuals who live in apartment-style housing or single-family homes. The Metro Nashville Public Health Department is offering free asymptomatic testing to anyone who wants it at their testing sites, which are identified at asafenashville.org.
All individuals must be free of any symptoms related to COVID-19 to participate in activities on campus, including attending in-person classes. Campus-wide approaches to safety and the practice of mask wearing and physical distancing are critical, as individuals can be without symptoms and still be COVID-19 positive. Individuals who have been authorized to return to campus after testing positive must also conduct daily symptom monitoring before coming to campus or leaving their residence hall room. It is the individual’s responsibility to comply, and it is our shared duty as a community to act responsibly.
A symptom monitoring tool has been created within the existing VandySafe app for daily self-monitoring. Beginning Aug. 10, all undergraduate students must use this tool to prepare for campus arrival. We strongly recommend that all Vanderbilt University faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate/professional students also use VandySafe on a daily basis.
New features of the VandySafe app include:
- Self-Assessment Tool: Users are provided recommended actions based on answers to a series of guided questions
- Return to Campus Plan
- Vanderbilt University COVID-19 Updates
- Report a Concern
- Support Services
Quarantine and isolation
As we have continued to prepare for the fall semester, we have designated additional locations for on-campus undergraduate isolation and quarantine space to ensure the health and safety of all of our community. In addition to the previously announced Blakemore House and Scarritt Bennett Center, the Chaffin apartments and the OHARE at the Village at Vanderbilt Townhouses and South Tower will be reserved to support on-campus residential undergraduates who may await COVID test results or become ill during the fall semester.
Per CDC guidance and Vanderbilt policy, any individuals (faculty, students, postdocs, staff) returning to campus from abroad must self-quarantine at their off-campus residence or an off- campus site for 14 days before returning to campus.
All residential undergraduates, except those newly admitted, will receive notice of their housing assignment by July 22, and students will receive an additional notice on July 27 when the Student Housing Portal will open for students to schedule their designated move-in time slot. Only one parent or family member may accompany students into the residence hall during move-in, and symptom screening, including a temperature check, will be conducted on site upon arrival. This process is being developed in close consultation with health experts at VUMC and our School of Nursing as well as national, state and local public health officials. The success of this approach will require a joint effort from every member of our community as we work together as One Vanderbilt.
As you heard directly from your deans last week, Vanderbilt has assembled a classroom protocol team to work with faculty leaders and subject-matter experts to research, assess and develop both requirements and recommendations for classroom instruction and usage during the start of the 2020-21 academic year. These protocols were established based on guidance from the CDC, leading subject matter experts across our campus and a range of faculty leaders.
We are balancing the health, safety and comfort of our constituencies and our community with providing the meaningful experiences traditionally associated with Vanderbilt. These are temporary measures to deal with the challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves. We realize how important community and social bonds are to good mental health, and we have groups formulating plans and practices to promote interaction.
The university’s protocols with respect to “gatherings” prioritize core mission activities central to the university’s mission. Gatherings must be conducted in accordance with VU-established guidelines, and some gatherings must be approved. These requirements for in-person gatherings are subject to change based on public health guidance and Vanderbilt protocols.
Additional new resources
The university also continues to launch new resources to assist the Vanderbilt community in safely returning to campus in the fall and adjusting to the new protocols on campus. As you saw announced in myVU last week, The Hub is a newly launched online information portal providing students direct links to Vanderbilt’s various resources.
We will continue to provide additional updates in the coming weeks and encourage you to continue checking the Return to Campus website for frequently asked questions with the “new” and “updated” tags.
As the university continues to monitor the public health situation locally and nationally, we also will continue to work towards providing a comprehensive and transformative educational experience for our students while pushing forward excellence in our scholarship, research and creative expression endeavors for the benefit of the greater society we live in. Over the nearly 150 years of the university’s history—from starting as a new university in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, to surviving the Great Depression and two world wars, to confronting our racist past, current social injustices, and countless other national and global challenges—it is essential that we remember that Vanderbilt University has moved forward and grown in positive ways from every challenge we’ve faced due to our determination and commitment to excellence. While this global pandemic offers unprecedented challenges, we can and will learn from them. And by taking a data-driven and reasoned approach, we will overcome these difficult times together as One Vanderbilt.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology
Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair