Dear University of Rochester Community:
We write with a follow-up to yesterday’s brief alert message. First, thank you for your patience as we are working through the implications of the changes to the start of the spring semester. Second, we would like to share with you a deeper understanding of the circumstances that caused us to change course so abruptly. This message will take you through some of the considerations that went into the decision, and how we are planning for this temporary change.
When we made our initial plans to begin the semester in person, we were reasonably assured that this was the right choice. However, yesterday, the reported number of new daily infections registered in Monroe County was over 4,000, a three-fold increase from the previous week. This alarming increase caused our University and Medical Center teams and our local officials to immediately reassess our assumptions and to recommend that we respond accordingly.
The volatility of the infection rate in the Rochester region makes it impossible to precisely predict future infection rates, at least until the spike in omicron variant infections subsides. As you know, the steps we have already taken—requiring vaccinations, boosters, and universal masking—should be enough to keep our students safe on campus. Additionally, we know the effects of omicron appear generally milder than previous COVID variants. But it is not only our students’ health and safety that played into our decision. We had to consider our faculty and our staff, the URMedicine healthcare system, and the broader community within which the University of Rochester co-exists.
Although vaccinated individuals (like our students) are unlikely to become seriously ill themselves, they may still infect others in the community who may become sick and create an additional burden on our already over-taxed local health system. They may also expose others in the community who do not become sick but are nevertheless required to isolate and stay out of work for a period of days determined by federal, state, and county guidelines. The increased infection and isolation rates would further strain our staffing resources in virtually every part of the University, from dining to nursing to facilities maintenance to student services. Even before the anticipated arrival of students for the spring semester, a number of administrative and medical departments are experiencing reduced staffing due to isolation protocols of more than 50 percent.
Taking all of this together, and after a great deal of careful consideration and difficult discussion, we decided that to introduce thousands of individuals into this environment at this particular time, under these 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 absolute certainty the path that 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 and public health and infectious disease experts right here at our Medical Center. If our predictive epidemiological models bear out, we will see a downturn in the infection rates—and therefore the exposure rates—within the next few weeks. This will enable us to effect a safe and responsible return to fully on-campus, in-person activity.
We want to emphasize again that the changes we have made are designed to be temporary. Our current plan is to operate under the conditions we established yesterday until January 26, at which point, we will reassess, and if all goes as we hope, fully reopen our facilities. We expect instruction to continue online until January 31 for Eastman School of Music, Simon Business School, Warner School of Education, AS&E, and School of Medicine and Dentistry graduate education. For SMD medical and dental education and School of Nursing, please refer to your deans for direction. Clinical placements for all schools will still happen in person.
But these are only our current targets, and circumstances may cause us to shift these dates. Whatever decisions we make going forward, however, we will endeavor to be sure that students (and their families) have at least a week to make travel and other arrangements. We know that the abrupt nature of the changes we announced yesterday created confusion and difficulty for some of you, and for that we are sorry, but the urgent nature of the change made the timing less than ideal. However, we will do our best to communicate future changes with ample time to adjust and respond.
Below, we have compiled information on how the University plans to operate in the next few weeks. Of course, additional operational changes may be needed. 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 continued patience and understanding. We know this is very difficult for everyone.
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf
President and G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professor
Mark B. Taubman
CEO, University of Rochester Medical Center and Dean, School of Medicine and Dentistry
Room and Board Charges
Room and board charges will be adjusted on a pro-rated basis for students affected by the request to delay returning to campus, and financial aid will not be reduced. The University will apply the pro-rated amount to student accounts once the official return-to-campus date is determined; no action is needed on the part of students and their families at this time.
Dining operations will open as planned beginning Saturday, January 8. The full list of hours for each operation can be found on the Dining website and are posted in our locations. Any changes to hours of operation will be posted on the Dining website; students are encouraged to check for the most current information.
In addition to several retail operations, our Residential Dining Facilities, Danforth and Douglass, will be open and, between them, will provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, seven days a week. Both swipes and declining balance are accepted at Danforth and Douglass. Eastman Dining Center will reopen beginning Friday, January 7.
For students currently on campus, spring meal plans will begin on Friday, January 7. For students who have not returned to campus and all commuter students, meal plans will be paused until further notice. Additionally, for students currently on campus we have temporarily extended the ability to use declining balance for Grubhub purchases at off-campus restaurants.
University Health Service is open and available. Students are reminded of the booster mandate, and the requirements for daily Chatbot reporting.
All research activity is planned to continue as normal, using appropriate masking protocols, with the exception of undergraduate research, which will move online until further notice.
Campus Access and Visitors
Students remaining on campus will continue to have access to all buildings. It’s important to remember that all faculty, staff, and students who enter the Medical Center must have completed the Chatbot symptom tracker. Non-University visitors and guests are not permitted in residence halls or student rooms.
Limits to Gatherings
Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 individuals, following standard masking protocols. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 50.
Libraries will be open and operating as usual depending on staffing availability.
For conference athletics already in season, competition will continue. Any non-league events will be postponed or canceled. Spectators will not be allowed at these events.
Students Unable to Delay Return to Campus
Although we strongly urge students who have not yet arrived on campus to delay their return, we recognize that some students, especially those arriving from international locations, may not be able to change their travel plans. We will accommodate students who must arrive on campus early as long as they have a negative COVID test result. Additionally, the University’s International Services Office (ISO) stands ready to answer questions and provide additional support to international students or scholars who need assistance during this time.
For faculty and staff
The staff guidelines that were announced last month are in place until January 26:
- Essential workers must continue to report to work
- Staff currently working remotely should continue to work remotely
- Hybrid staff should consult with their manager or supervisor to determine if there is an opportunity to conduct additional work remotely during this period
The Provost’s Office will continue to communicate with faculty and provide support in bringing courses temporarily online. The following resources may be useful: