University announces masking, testing and other public health measures for fall semester
As more than 80 percent of Yale community members have documented full vaccination and the Delta variant leads to mushrooming COVID-19 case counts nationally and in New Haven, the University is updating its public health protocols.
As the Delta variant spikes COVID-19 cases across the country, the University has announced a set of public health measures for the fall 2021 semester, including masking, arrival testing and weekly testing requirements.
In a July 30 email to the Yale community, University Provost Scott Strobel and Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan explained that, due to changing guidance from the Center for Disease Control, fully vaccinated individuals must resume wearing masks indoors on campus unless they are in a private office or partitioned cubicle. On Aug. 5, New Haven County moved into the CDC’s category for “high” transmission of COVID-19, which means there are over 100 infections per 100,000 people in a week. Per CDC guidelines, in areas with “substantial” transmission, everyone over the age of two should wear masks in public indoor spaces.
Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd further outlined public health measures that the University plans to have in place when students move in. Although vaccinations are required for all students — unless they received a vaccine exemption — all students must be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to campus, Boyd wrote in an Aug. 5 email to undergraduates. Furthermore, fully vaccinated students will be required to test weekly through September, and unvaccinated students will be required to test twice weekly throughout the semester.
On Aug. 9, the University will move to a yellow alert level to denote higher risk of coronavirus brought by increased case rates in Connecticut and the imminent return of students and faculty.
“Because public health circumstances are evolving, these measures may evolve, too,” Boyd wrote in her email.
In an Aug. 5 email to faculty and staff, Strobel provided statistics on the University’s vaccination efforts. About 85 percent of staff, 82 percent of faculty and 85 percent of students are fully vaccinated and have reported their status to the University.
By Aug. 16, faculty who have not submitted vaccine documentation or received an exemption will be subject to a “progressive disciplinary process.” Students who do not report their vaccination status or apply for an exemption by Aug. 9 will not be allowed to enroll in the fall semester, Strobel wrote.
The new public health guidance has raised questions about the timeline and protocol regarding staff members’ imminent return to work as well as to the relative normalcy of the upcoming school year. In an email to the News, University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler said that she anticipates there will be a version of the Community Compact throughout the fall term, as well as a Statement of Expectations for staff, faculty, and postdoctoral and postgraduate trainees.
“Most recently the decision to resume indoor masking was made based on new guidance from the CDC and the increase in infections in New Haven County,” Spangler told the News. “It is very difficult to predict what future health and safety measures will be necessary, but we are very hopeful that the increasing rates of vaccination among our campus and community populations will continue to have a strong and positive impact on public health conditions.”
Less than a month ago, the University scaled back its protective measures for fully vaccinated individuals, in accordance with CDC guidance and after several weeks of close to zero infections in the Yale community. But the emerging Delta variant, which is more transmissible than other variants of the virus, now accounts for the majority of cases in the country. In the past two weeks alone, the Yale New Haven Hospital system has seen a fivefold increase in coronavirus patients. The majority of those patients are infected with the Delta variant, hospital leaders said at a Thursday press conference.
A CDC report released Friday suggests that fully vaccinated individuals can still become infected with and spread the virus, though research still indicates that risk of serious illness seems to be lower for these individuals.
Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund said that because vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can have a high viral load, masks are effective in areas with higher transmission risk, including classrooms. Still, mask-wearing and a high level of vaccinations will allow the University to host larger gatherings, he said. Vermund added that it currently does not seem prudent to test asymptomatic vaccinated people in a highly vaccinated community.
Like Boyd, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News that public health guidelines may continue to evolve, as they depend on local public health conditions and CDC guidelines.
“The plan right now is for campus life in the fall to be less constrained than it was last year, but everything depends on compliance with vaccination requirements and of course guidance from public health leaders,” Chun wrote in an email to the News.
Matthew Jacobson, Sterling Professor of African American Studies, American Studies and History, said that in-person classes with masks and social distancing would be “a step up” from Zoom-based learning, but that the recent epidemiological updates painted a grim picture for the upcoming year.
“No one should be surprised if we end up back in some version of hybrid instruction,” Jacobson wrote in an email to the News. “But I remain hopeful.”
Many Yale staff members were scheduled to phase into in-person work starting Aug. 2 or 9, depending on their unit. In their email to the Yale community, Strobel and Callahan wrote that deans and officers should review return-to-work plans for staff and consider whether some “moderation” in the speed and degree of return is appropriate.
After Strobel and Callahan’s announcement, Yale’s Office of Development allowed all staff who could work effectively from home to continue doing so until Aug. 16. Prior to Strobel and Callahan’s email, many staff members were expected to work in person one day a week starting Aug. 2 as part of a phased return to in-person work.
In an email to the News, Callahan explained that some units are slowing the pace that they bring staff back, while others must return to prepare for the year. Staff who received an exemption to the University’s vaccine mandate must be tested weekly, and the University is considering increasing that requirement to twice a week, he added.
Callahan said that the feedback about returning to campus has been “understandably” mixed.
“Some are excited to be back on campus and see colleagues for the first time in many months,” Callahan told the News. “Others are concerned and the rise in the Delta variant adds to it. I have noticed that some staff are a bit uncomfortable on the first day back; but, [they] fall back into a rhythm after a day or [two].”
Still, more than 75 people have already returned to work in the Office of Development and have given positive feedback about the return to work, said Vice President of Development Joan O’Neill.
“We are following the guidance which comes in messages from university leaders and public health experts,” O’Neill told the News. “Decisions are made based on public health guidance and we are very fortunate to have so many expert advisors at Yale.”
A strategy team working to develop University protocol for the upcoming year is weighing long-term hybrid or remote work options, Callahan said. But Yale will not make decisions about remote work for staff until 2022, as it must assess how teams function when some members work from home while others are in the office.
The University has seen 19 coronavirus cases in the past week, according to its COVID-19 dashboard, up from less than five cases each week of June.