COVID-19 Update: Public Health and Safety Preparations for Fall 2021

Dear Students, Families, Faculty and Staff:

It’s exciting to see so many students back on campus. Our law students, as well as some graduate students, have already begun classes, but in just a few short days, the Fall 2021 semester will be in full swing with all students back in the classroom.

As students, faculty and staff resume normal routines on campus, we recognize that the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and Central New York is unsettling for some. As we have throughout the pandemic, please know that the University is closely monitoring public health conditions. We are in constant communication with public health officials, and our decision-making will continue to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus community.

We have learned a lot over the last 18 months and have applied that knowledge to the University’s COVID response for the upcoming academic year. While we can’t predict every turn of the virus and variants, I can say with confidence that we are prepared. The vast majority of the public health strategy that guided the 2020-21 academic year remains in effect this semester, with some additions and modifications, including:

·         Randomized surveillance testing of vaccinated students and employees

·         Required testing for unvaccinated individuals

·         Wastewater surveillance testing

·         Testing on demand for any student, faculty and staff member, or their family members who share a residence

·         Contact tracing to identify, isolate and quarantine those exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19

·         Quarantine and isolation protocols consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) policies and county health directives

·         Enhanced cleaning, sanitizing and air filtration

·         Tent and outdoor convening spaces for academic and extracurricular activities

For those of you who are new to our community, you will receive frequent updates from me and other leaders regarding the evolving nature of the pandemic. For those returning to campus for the first time since spring, thank you for your continued attention to this important information and commitment to health and safety. Today, I will address some very specific public health areas, including:

1.   Testing Requirements for Vaccine-Exempt Individuals

2.   Surveillance Testing Program for Vaccinated Individuals

3.   Testing Center Location and Hours

4.   Isolation and Quarantine Procedures and Resources

5.   Update on COVID Alert System and Masking

Testing Requirements for Vaccine-Exempt Individuals

Testing continues to be a central component of our strategy to lessen exposure, transmission and COVID illness on our campus. The University’s testing infrastructure remains prepared to conduct thousands of COVID tests per week on campus. For any unvaccinated member of our campus community, meaning those with approved medical and religious exemptions, you are required to participate in ongoing surveillance testing once per week (every seven days). Individual compliance with this requirement is closely monitored.

·         Vaccine-exempt students who do not comply with the weekly testing requirement will be prohibited from attending in-person classes and accessing any campus building, and will lose access to all online and digital resources, including Wi-Fi and Blackboard.

·         Vaccine-exempt faculty and staff who do not comply with the weekly testing requirement are subject to disciplinary actions as determined by the University’s chief human resource officer and vice chancellor and provost.

Surveillance Testing Program for Vaccinated Individuals

Given the increasing number of “breakthrough” COVID cases among vaccinated individuals, the SU Public Health Team has recommended that the University initiate a randomized COVID surveillance testing program that includes vaccinated members of the campus community. We will implement this recommendation beginning on Monday, Aug. 30.

Specifically, each week a subset of our on-campus population (inclusive of students, faculty and staff) will receive an email directing them to visit the Testing Center during the week to receive a COVID test. This data will be utilized to better understand the prevalence of breakthrough infection on campus, and in turn inform the most appropriate mitigation strategy.

Testing Center Location and Hours

The University Testing Center is now located at Kimmel Dining Hall. The hours are:

·         Aug. 27: 8 a.m.-noon

·         Aug. 28-29: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

·         Beginning Aug. 30:

o    Monday: 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

o    Tuesday: 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

o    Wednesday: noon–7 p.m.

o    Thursday: 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

o    Friday: 8:30–10:30 a.m.

o    Sunday: 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

·         Please visit the Stay Safe COVID-19 Testing webpage to learn more about campus testing and how to prepare to take a test.

Isolation and Quarantine Procedures and Resources

The isolation requirement for those who test positive for COVID remains unchanged relative to last year. If you test positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, you will be directed by a legal order from the Onondaga County Health Department to isolate for a period of 10 days. Similar to last year, the University is fully prepared to provide isolation housing for students living on campus, and for those who cannot safely isolate in their off-campus apartments.

Importantly, the CDC and Onondaga County Health Department’s quarantine requirements for vaccinated persons exposed to a COVID positive individual have changed relative to last year. Those quarantine guidelines for vaccinated individuals are as follows:

·         Exposed, but no symptoms of illness (asymptomatic):

o    If you have come into close contact (as determined by a contact tracer) you have two options:

o    Wear a mask for 14 days from the date of exposure, or

o    Test 3-5 days after exposure (and wear a mask, until your test results are available)

§  If you test positive, you must isolate for 10 days prior to resuming standard prevention measures (this includes wearing a mask, washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, maintaining distance and avoiding contact with sick individuals). Faculty and staff should report a COVID-19 positive test to HR Shared Services.

§  If you test negative, you may resume standard prevention measures.

o    If you are not a close contact, you can continue your standard prevention measures; no other action is necessary.

·         Symptomatic/Vaccinated

o    If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms, you should stay home and test immediately. Only leave your home, apartment or residence hall to be tested.

§  If you test positive, you must isolate for 10 days prior to resuming standard prevention measures. Faculty and staff should report a COVID-19 positive test to HR Shared Services.

§  If you test negative, you should retest 3-5 days after exposure.

1.   At that point, if you test positive, you must isolate for 10 days before resuming standard prevention measures.

2.   If you test negative on the second test, you may resume standard prevention measures.

For any unvaccinated individual exposed to someone with COVID-19, the quarantine requirement remains unchanged from last year. Specifically, you will be required by a legal order from the Onondaga County Health Department to quarantine for 10 days. Once you are released from quarantine, you may resume standard prevention measures.

I recognize this is A LOT of information, but it’s important you know what to do in the event you are exposed. To learn more about quarantine and isolation protocols, please visit the Stay Safe COVID-19 Response Checklists webpage.

To our students, if you find yourself in this situation, there are ample resources and supports available to you. To review how the University will support you if you’re exposed, please review the materials located on the Support Resources for Students in Quarantine or Isolation webpage.

Update on COVID Alert System and Masking

On Aug. 13, the University introduced a four-tiered COVID alert system and associated masking framework, designed as a tool to refine and communicate campus masking requirements over time, based on an ongoing assessment of rates of new infection, testing data and contact tracing information unique to our campus and local community.

We have received several questions related to this new framework, that I want to answer here for all members of our community:

Why isn’t the University currently recommending masking for all when indoors?

Currently, the University is recommending masking indoors for all individuals. The University’s current COVID alert level is BLUE, which corresponds to a recommendation of indoor masking, inclusive of those vaccinated members of our community. Further, at the current alert level masking is mandatory for all in classrooms and other venues where academic instruction takes place. Our approach does allow that in certain settings and circumstances—for example, possibly when studying with a vaccinated group of friends in a residence hall lounge or when meeting with a group of vaccinated colleagues in a conference room—that vaccinated adults can choose to unmask if all members of the group are comfortable doing so.

How often will the University’s Public Health Team reassess the current COVID alert level?

The SU Public Health Team will reassess the COVID alert level at least three days a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The SU COVID Dashboard is also updated on these days.

Who are the members of the University’s Public Health Team for the 2021-22 academic year?

A complete listing of the SU Public Health Team can be found on the Stay Safe website.

Thank you for your continued commitment to the health and safety of our campus and Central New York community. You will receive additional updates from the University in the coming days and weeks, as we continue to monitor pandemic conditions. Please bookmark and visit it regularly.

J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation