Office of the Provost
Guidance and Reminders for Fall 2021
This message is being sent to all deans, associate deans, and department heads.
Monday marks the first day of our new academic year and a significant milestone in our progression through the pandemic, as we resume mostly in-person classes. I know this event brings with it both anticipation and anxiety. As associate deans and department heads, you are in critical positions and I want to make sure you’re aware of our plans and resources designed to ensure as safe a return to our campuses as possible.
The University continues to follow the best, most reliable advice we have available to us, which includes regular consultations with infectious disease experts and epidemiologists at UConn Health and ongoing coordination with state officials. You can be sure that the University’s COVID-planning leaders, UConn Health experts, and state officials are very much aware of the changing conditions created by the Delta variant and any potential effects on guidance. Further, our plan is in full compliance with existing local and federal guidance.
I encourage you to review the message our office sent last week on returning to in-person academics and our academic FAQs. Both address a number of questions and scenarios of interest to academic operations.
The message and FAQs include information on key topics such as the mitigation strategies we already have in place. These strategies include required vaccinations for all employees and students, required masking for all, refreshed and improved ventilation systems in all our classrooms, surveillance testing, and ongoing waste-water testing at the Storrs campus to catch any potential outbreaks early. We are heartened by the fact that during all of last year there were no documented cases of transmission via the classroom and we’re drawing upon what we’ve learned from that experience for this year, as well. No plan can mitigate all risks, and I understand the concerns some in our community have, but we have enacted an approach that is among the most conservative of our peer universities.
Contact tracing and testing will continue to be handled through a combination of Student Affairs, Human Resources, the Department of Public Health, and other health care partners. To be clear, instructors have no responsibility for contact tracing and the classroom is unlikely to be considered a site of transmission. This is because of these mitigation factors including required masking, high vaccination rates, surveillance testing, and enhanced ventilation. Additional details on contact tracing can be found in the FAQ page mentioned above under “COVID Exposure.” Guidance on how the contact tracing process works in the State of Connecticut can be found at: https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus/contact.
We have received questions about our ability and willingness to adjust to changing health conditions through the semester. I want to reassure everyone that we are constantly monitoring conditions and guidance, and have put plans in place to address a wide range of scenarios. The EPG (Executive Policy Group) has mapped out a variety of options that include the possibility of shifting fully to online (either short term or for the duration of the semester) and they will be monitoring various factors, including (but not limited to) rates of infection in the surrounding communities, state, and region; occupancy rates for our isolation beds; and other data points. We are fortunate to live and work in a region where infection rates continue to be significantly lower than elsewhere in the country and vaccination rates significantly higher, however, we remain vigilant and prepared should we need to change course.
We will continue to share updates in the coming weeks addressing additional aspects of the return to in-person instruction, as the situation demands. At the same time, we will seek to strike the right balance between providing sufficient information and guidance and not overwhelming you with information (which can have the effect of making people pay less attention to the messages we do send). We also will utilize some of the Associate Dean and Department Head meeting the second week of the semester to discuss the current status of our re-entry and can take any questions and/or suggestions. We also encourage you to reach out directly any time as is useful.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs