July 20, 2024

Spring 2022 COVID Plan Update

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

As you begin your winter break, we write to share preliminary plans for the spring semester. The ever-changing landscape of the pandemic continues to require us to be adaptable and, as such, the Public Health Advisory Working Group will continue to keep a close eye on prevailing conditions as we enter into 2022.

As a result of the University’s comprehensive approach to combatting the virus, including the high vaccination rates within our campus community, we were able to support a cautious, yet robust, fall semester of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities. The number of COVID-19 cases on campus this fall remained manageable, despite the presence of the Delta variant and high local community transmission rates. Since the first of August, 128 members of the campus community have tested positive for COVID-19 – 109 students and 19 staff and faculty members. Forty of the 128 cases occurred before Labor Day and we saw about 20 during the two weeks after Thanksgiving. Other than these two time periods, weekly cases remained in single digits.

As we plan for the spring semester, we are heartened both by our experience this fall and by important developments in the ongoing effort to curb this pandemic. Booster vaccines are now available for everyone age 16 and over, and initial vaccines have been authorized for children who are five and older. Also, there is promising news about antiviral medicine under consideration by the FDA that may reduce hospitalization rates and severe illness.

The course of the pandemic remains unpredictable, particularly as we await more information about the emergence of the Omicron variant. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and gather medical and scientific information as it becomes available. As a result of this recent development and ongoing high rates of community transmission, a number of our established COVID-19 interventions will remain in place for the spring semester. At the same time, others will change, as needed, to meet prevailing conditions.

The following interventions will remain in place for the spring 2022 semester:

  • Vaccines. At present, the University continues to require all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless an approved exemption has been submitted. All students, faculty, and staff are expected to report their vaccine status to the University. More information about this requirement and how to report your status is available in our FAQs. If you are not currently vaccinated, we strongly encourage you to get vaccinated if you are able.
    • Boosters. If you are fully vaccinated, we urge you to get a booster six months after your last dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months after your dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Given the potential for waning protection against infection from the Delta variant and with the emergence of the Omicron variant, the CDC recommends that everyone over 16 get a booster shot when they are eligible. At this time, we are not collecting booster documentation, but we will let you know if and when that changes.
  • Symptomatic Testing and Exposure Testing. The Student Health Center will continue to provide COVID-19 testing for students who exhibit symptoms that may be indicative of COVID-19. We will also continue to provide COVID-19 testing at Bushnell Hall for students, staff, and faculty who are identified as close contacts of a member of the campus community.
  • Mandatory Weekly Testing. All members of the University community who are not fully vaccinated will need to participate in weekly testing for the spring semester. Unvaccinated faculty and staff will begin the week of January 3 at the Lee’s Hill clinic of Mary Washington Hospital, 10401 Spotsylvania Ave #103 (available M-F). Unvaccinated students will begin weekly testing the week of January 17 unless they did not participate in re-entry testing on January 9 (described below). Testing will continue to take place in Bushnell Hall on Mondays (if it falls on a holiday, then Wednesday) and Thursdays. Students who have schedule changes will be able to select a new weekly time from available options.
  • Contact Tracing and COVID Care Support. The University will continue to conduct full case investigations for any COVID-19 case involving a member of the UMW community and will make contact with known close contacts. On-campus quarantine and isolation spaces will remain available for any residential student who tests positive or is instructed to quarantine based on their vaccination and exposure status, if they choose to remain on campus for that period. Our COVID Care team will continue to provide support to on-campus Q/I spaces with meal delivery and routine check-ins.
  • Masks. With the uncertainty of the Omicron variant’s effect, we will continue to require anyone entering a University-owned or operated building, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask. We will keep monitoring conditions as well as federal, state, and local guidance to determine if and when this mandate will be lifted.
  • Events. While the University has returned to as much in-person engagement as possible, it is important to recognize that the greatest risk still occurs where there are large numbers of people gathering indoors and when masks are not consistently worn. Events where food and drink are consumed are still discouraged due to the inherent risks. As you plan events that involve food, drink, and/or include non-UMW community members, consult with the Public Health Advisory Working Group (through Dave Fleming) to ensure all possible mitigation strategies are considered.

Other COVID-19 interventions will be adjusted as necessary to meet prevailing conditions on campus, including the following:

  • Re-Entry Testing. We have coordinated with the Virginia Department of Health to provide PCR testing to our students on Sunday, January 9, 2022 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. All residential students as well as any student who is not fully vaccinated will be expected to participate in this testing event. Vaccinated off-campus students will also be able to participate, based on availability. All individuals expected to test will be sent more detailed instructions to their UMW email. Concerns about complying with the reentry testing expectation should be directed to covidtesting@umw.edu.
  • Mask Exemptions. During the course of the fall semester, a committee was formed to review mask exemption requests for the variety of performances that occurred on campus. This committee will continue to review any request for performers, speakers, and special events to be exempt from the indoor masking requirement. The requester must be able to demonstrate that the performance or task is significantly inhibited by the use of a mask.
  • Fitness Center Changes. The staff at Campus Recreation worked over the course of the fall semester to develop a plan that would allow for limited mask removal during active exercise within the Fitness Center. After a thorough review, the plan was approved and will be communicated with all individuals accessing the Fitness Center. It is our hope and goal to increase use of this important wellness resource by removing a potential barrier to exercise. We will evaluate any impact to our COVID mitigation and adjust if necessary.
  • Stricter Enforcement of Non-compliance. While the majority of our campus community has put forth a good faith effort in complying with COVID-19 related policies, procedures, and expectations, we did observe a marked increase in non-compliance of mandatory testing and indoor masking, particularly at the end of the semester. As such, the public health team is working to establish clearer expectations and consequences to be upheld in the spring semester.
  • Recommitment to ASPIRE Values. It is not lost on us that everyone is tired of COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions and expectations. There are also some who do not agree with the mitigation strategies at UMW, and we do not expect to make everyone happy. We saw increased reports of faculty and staff (including student staff) being met with hostility as they attempted to enforce these policies. The mistreatment of any individual at UMW, however, will not be tolerated; it simply isn’t what it means to be an Eagle. We all have to be in this together to maintain a physically and mentally healthy campus community, and it is our expectation that you treat others with dignity and respect, even when you are upset or disagree. Reports of these types of incidents will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct (for students) or Human Resources (for employees) and will be resolved through the respective processes.

We hope you have a wonderful winter break and we very much look forward to your return in 2022. Stay heathy, Eagles!

Jeffrey McClurken, Chief of Staff & UMW COVID Director

David Fleming, Assistant Dean for Residence Life & Housing, COVID Monitoring & Tracing Coordinator, Chair of Public Health Advisory Working Group

COVID Updates

To all Faculty and Staff:

We made it through the first week of classes! It has been great to see students back on campus, classes starting up again, and all that comes with the start of the fall semester. Of course, it hasn’t been without its bumps and so we want to make sure everyone has the most up-to-date information. [Please read through to the end. There is lots of important information here.]

  • FDA Approval – Last week the Food and Drug Administration has provided full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, removing its EUA status. For those small numbers of students and employees who are not vaccinated, please do get vaccinated now. We know that the emergency approval was a concern for some, but the FDA has provided that full approval now, so contact your local pharmacy, drugstore, health care provider or https://www.vaccines.gov/ to find a Pfizer vaccine today!
  • Masking reminders – In general, UMW community members have successfully returned to masking indoors. We have heard a few concerns expressed, however, especially as people enter buildings or get up from eating or drinking, or enter into spaces with other people. Our Students Care Ambassadors will be coming back this fall to help remind people about the masking policy indoors, but remember that everyone has a role to play in reminding people about masking.
    • Because people have asked and as clarification, appropriate face coverings do not include bandanas. Face shields are also insufficient by themselves. Gaiters can be used but only if they have at least two layers. More on types of masks can be found at the CDC’s site.
  • If you have concerns about COVID enforcement or actions, remember that the Report a COVID Concern is still an option. Please include as much information as possible so that we can address those concerns.
  • Exposure warnings for vaccinated people – new this fall, we are reaching out to vaccinated people who have a known close contact exposure to a COVID positive case with an email about the recent CDC guidance for exposed but vaccinated “to be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.”  If you get one of these emails, do not panic. It does not mean you have COVID or are even likely to get COVID. It does not mean that you need to quarantine, nor that you need to tell all of your close contacts. Rather, out of an abundance of caution we are letting you know that you should take a few more precautions and get tested if you have any COVID symptoms, and if not, you should still get tested 3-5 days from receipt of the email. Please note, because of privacy regulations we cannot tell you where or how you were exposed.
    • As has been the case, unvaccinated people who are close contacts will need to quarantine for two weeks, per CDC/VDH recommendations. They will be contacted separately.
    • Positive cases will still isolate for 10 days from positive test or start of symptoms, regardless of vaccination status.
    • Please do not ask students to reveal their vaccination status. The HR, Public Health team, and the local health district can do so as part of implementing the vaccination, testing, and contact tracing system, but they are exceptions.
  • We want to point out again that because we are not social distancing, the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated close contact exposures will be much higher for each case than was true last year.
  • Vaccination rates – The good news is that Faculty and Staff are nearly at 91% vaccinated and it looks like students will end up right at about 95% vaccinated. Thank you to all of you for helping to protect the UMW community.

Jeff and Dave, on behalf of the Public Health Advisory Working Group