Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Families:
Faculty and staff from across the University continue preparations to welcome students back to campus for the spring semester. As Chancellor Kent Syverud shared in a message yesterday, more details on our timeline and return to campus will be forthcoming in the first week of January. As part of this work, we are reflecting on our fall semester experience, and applying what we learned to improve and enhance our continued COVID response strategy.
We write to you today to share changes in process and policy the University is adopting for the spring semester to ensure we are best positioned to support a safe and meaningful residential campus experience. In this message, we address process and policy changes impacting:
- COVID Surveillance Testing for Spring 2021
- On-Campus Contact Tracing
- Stay Safe Pledge
Our planning continues as millions of Americans are receiving their first doses of the recently approved COVID-19 vaccine, providing all of us much-needed optimism. However, widespread access to the vaccine will take several months, and many communities across the U.S.—here in Central New York—continue to report record-high levels of new infections and hospitalizations. This current reality must serve as a reminder to remain vigilant to ensure the safety and well-being of our families, friends and community. Changes to our approach for the spring semester reflect the current reality and our commitment to keeping our community safe.
COVID Surveillance Testing for Spring 2021
Robust COVID surveillance testing is key to our ability to safely resume residential campus operations in the new year. Throughout the fall, we benefited greatly from a tremendous testing partnership with SUNY Upstate Medical University that allowed us to process more than 100,000 COVID tests on campus between August and December. At the same time, given anticipated infection rates in New York and elsewhere throughout early 2021, our public health team is adjusting our surveillance testing program to ensure we can quickly and effectively identify and isolate instances of infection on our campus. Those adjustments are as follows:
- Expand Testing Capacity: We will expand our testing capacity and reduce the time from “test to result.” As compared to the more than the 100,000 COVID surveillance tests conducted in the fall, we anticipate collecting and processing between 250,000 and 300,000 samples from students, faculty and staff between January and May 2021. For this reason, over the past two months, Syracuse University has been working to create a fully autonomous, on-campus testing laboratory. We have invested in creating a testing infrastructure capable of processing up to 4,000 tests per day, and routinely returning results within 24-36 hours.
- New Testing Method: To support this expanded scale, we have also adopted a new scientific testing method. This spring, we will use a surveillance testing method developed by scientists at Yale University that has become widely adopted by many of our peer institutions. Like our prior testing method, the new approach utilizes a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process to detect the virus—making it highly accurate. At the same time, this new method reduces the time required to process samples significantly, supporting our objective of expediting the time from “test to result.” For those being tested, the only difference you will notice relates to how the sample is collected. Instead of using a mouth swab to collect saliva, the new method requires that those being tested deposit a saliva sample directly into a sterile test tube.
- Standardized Testing Strategy: We will transition away from the random surveillance sampling model we used in the fall. Instead, we will use a standardized whole-of-campus population testing plan for the spring semester. All students, faculty and staff who routinely access campus can expect a more frequent and regular testing regimen. Residential students should expect that, beginning in January, they will be required to be tested every seven days as a condition of accessing the Syracuse University campus. We will share additional details in the coming weeks.
- Stadium Testing Center: To accommodate the expanded scale of the University’s surveillance testing program, we are also in the process of significantly expanding and transforming the Stadium Testing Center. The new configuration will allow for enhanced physical distancing, privacy during sample collection and increased speed and efficiency throughout the process.
Expanded Contact Tracing Capacity
Syracuse University is expanding our contact tracing capacity and engagement process for the spring semester. We are increasing the student contact tracing team from 30 to 50 students and hiring a cohort of full-time contact tracing employees to support the Barnes Center’s ability to expedite initial contact tracing data collection. We are confident these enhancements will allow us to trace and isolate quickly and effectively, ultimately resulting in fewer members of our campus community impacted by mandatory quarantine requirements.
Stay Safe Pledge
Our collective and ongoing commitment to the practices outlined in the Stay Safe Pledge proved to be an important part of our ability to maintain a safe living, learning and working environment throughout the fall semester. We thank our campus community for doing their part. Now it’s time to recommit to following, and encouraging others to follow, an enhanced Stay Safe Pledge once again this spring.
Based on feedback received from students, families and campus community members, we have made updates to the pledge that further define the public health measures that will keep us and those around us safe. This includes additional guidance on essential travel outside of Central New York and following health and safety procedures. In addition, conduct sanctions have been updated to address repeated violations of the pledge. We ask that before you return in the spring, please review the Stay Safe Pledge and sign on to show your commitment to protecting the health and well-being of every member of the Orange community. We are grateful that the majority of our students conscientiously and responsibly followed all public health guidelines this fall.
As we say goodbye to 2020, all of us at Syracuse University extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude to every member of our community for your patience, partnership and perseverance in the face of an extraordinarily challenging year. Please continue to visit Syracuse.edu/staysafe for the latest information and public health guidance.
We wish you and your loved ones good health, happiness and peace this holiday season.
J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation
Robert D. Hradsky
Vice President for the Student Experience