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Important update on spring 2022 semester

Dear University of Rochester community:

We write with a follow-up to yesterday’s brief alert message. First, we thank you for your patience as we work on the implications of the changes for the start of spring. Second, we would like to share with you a deeper understanding of the circumstances that led us to abruptly change course. This post will take you through some of the considerations that went into the decision, and how we plan for this temporary change.

When we made our initial plans to start the semester in person, we were reasonably sure that this was the right choice. However, the number of new daily infections recorded in Monroe County yesterday exceeded 4,000, a threefold increase from the previous week. This alarming increase has led our university teams, our medical center, and local officials to immediately re-evaluate our assumptions and recommend a response accordingly.

The variability of the infection rate in the Rochester area makes it impossible to accurately predict infection rates in the future, at least until the rise in omicron variable infection subsides. You know, the steps we’ve already taken–requiring vaccinations, boosters, blanket masking–should be enough to keep our students safe on campus. In addition, we know that the effects of omicron appear to be generally milder than previous COVID variants. But it wasn’t the health and safety of our students that played a role in our decision. We had to think about our faculty and staff, the URMedicine healthcare system, and the broader community in which the University of Rochester coexists.

Although vaccinated individuals (such as our students) are unlikely to become seriously ill, they may continue to infect others in the community who may become ill and create an additional burden on our already overtaxed local health system. They may also expose others in the community who are not sick but who are nonetheless required to isolate and stay away from work for a period of days defined by federal, state and county guidelines. Increased rates of infection and isolation will further strain our staffing resources in nearly every part of the university, from dining to nursing to facility maintenance to student services. Even before the expected arrival of students for the spring semester, a number of administrative and medical departments are seeing staff reductions due to isolation protocols of more than 50 percent.

Having taken all this together, and after a great deal of careful consideration and difficult discussion, we have decided that introducing thousands of individuals into this environment at this particular time, under the circumstances, would be irresponsible on our part. Not only that, we knew it would go against the best advice of our public health and infection control experts.

No one can predict with certainty what path COVID will take in our region in the next few weeks, but we are fortunate to have some of the country’s most exceptional epidemiologists, public health and infectious disease experts here at our medical center. If our predictive epidemiological models hold true, we will see a decline in infection rates – and therefore exposure rates – within the next few weeks. This will enable us to achieve a safe and responsible return to fully personal activity on campus.

We want to emphasize once again that the changes we made are designed to be temporary. Our current plan is to operate under the conditions we set out yesterday until January 26, at which point we will reassess and, if all goes as we hope, reopen our facilities completely. We expect online teaching to continue through January 31 for Eastman College of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, AS&E, and the School of Medicine and Dentistry for Higher Education. For an SMD for medical, dental, and nursing school education, please refer to your deans for guidance. Clinical placements for all schools will continue to be conducted in-person.

But these are only our current goals, and circumstances may prompt us to change these dates. Whatever decisions we make in the future, we will endeavor to ensure that students (and their families) have at least a week to make travel and other arrangements. We know that the sudden nature of the changes we announced yesterday caused confusion and difficulty for some of you, which is why we’re sorry, but the urgent nature of the change has made the timing less than ideal. However, we will do our best to communicate future changes while allowing plenty of time to adapt and respond.

Below, we’ve put together information on how the university plans to operate in the next few weeks. Of course, additional operational changes may be required. This list is by no means exhaustive, and if you have any further questions about these plans, please visit the COVID-19 Resource Center or email URQuestion@rochester.edu.

Thank you again for your patience and continued understanding. We know this is very difficult for everyone.

sincerely,

Sarah C Mangelsdorf
President and Professor Jr. Robert Whitmer Jr.

Sarah Berg
temporary agent

Mark B. Tubman
CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Dean of the College of Medicine and Dentistry


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