July 20, 2020 – Important Updates on Fall Semester and Return to Campus for Graduate and Professional Students
Dear graduate and professional students,
Since we first announced our Return to Campus plans in May and June, the COVID-19 situation has continued to evolve. We want to assure you that we are monitoring all developments closely and are continuing to plan for students to return to campus as safely as possible. As discussed in the virtual town hall on the medical aspects of COVID-19 held on Saturday, July 18, we continue to gather recommendations from the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to seek guidance from nationally renowned public health experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and our School of Nursing. We will be vigilant and will not hesitate to make changes should they be needed.
Based on this guidance and these recommendations, we have finalized many new important actions for the fall semester to prepare our campus and to protect the health and safety of our community as much as possible. The four main tenets of our day-to-day plan for preventing the spread of COVID-19 are critically important: At all times, wear face coverings/masks, physically distance at least 6 feet, avoid large gatherings, and regularly wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. We also will deploy robust testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation protocols. However, it is the actions we each take as individuals—both on campus and off campus—that will have the most immediate and long-lasting impact.
I know these are difficult circumstances for all of us to navigate. Please know that we are listening to all of your feedback and input, which is coming through town halls, emails and the working groups charged with further developing plans to ensure a successful fall semester. Through all of this uncertainty, we will remain devoted to our values and our mission of advancing collaborative learning and discovery in a residential research university. As much as our campus community adapted in innovative ways last spring, we are committed to providing the best possible education experience for all of our students. The experiences that take place and the relationships we build with each other during classes and activities, and when making discoveries, form the very building blocks of our One Vanderbilt culture. Thank you for your patience, your flexibility and your commitment to our great university community.
Testing and contact tracing
Vanderbilt University established its COVID-19 safety model by leveraging collaboration and partnership with the world-class Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to support and protect the Vanderbilt University community as much as possible. A core component of our model includes on-campus testing through Student Health and rigorous contact tracing. Graduate and professional students who have symptoms related to COVID-19 or have been officially notified that they are a close contact to a COVID-19 positive person must contact Student Health immediately. If Student Health is not open and symptoms are severe enough, the student should go to the VUMC emergency department. If symptoms are not severe enough to require emergency attention, it is extremely important to avoid all contact with others, wear a mask, and practice strict hand hygiene while awaiting the Student Health Center to open and receive testing. Student Health will instruct the individual on appropriate next steps.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate as directed by the Student Health Center until they are recovered. To determine the risk of potential exposure to others on campus, the Vanderbilt Public Health Unified Command Center (PHUCC), a partnership between the School of Nursing Nurse Faculty Practice Division and Student Health, will conduct contact tracing with any student who has tested positive and will provide appropriate notifications across VU communities. By launching this robust in-house contact tracing capability, developed as a collaboration with experts at VUMC, the School of Nursing and Metro Public Health, Vanderbilt will ensure timely and coordinated contact tracing between campus and the Nashville community.
Please note that for graduate and professional students, postdocs, staff and faculty, we are not requiring pre-arrival testing before coming to campus. Unlike the undergraduate students, who will be tested pre-arrival, all of our graduate and professional students, postdocs, staff and faculty live off campus (with the limited exception of those involved in the residential program). There are different risks that need to be mitigated for residential undergraduate students, as well as their classmates who are living off campus and with whom they have a high degree of interaction within student organizations and other campus activities. If you interact with undergraduate students in the teaching and/or research environments, you may wish to review their testing and contact tracing information.
Symptom monitoring, quarantine and isolation
All individuals must be free of any symptoms related to COVID-19 to participate in activities on campus, including attending in-person classes. Campus-wide approaches to safety and the practice of mask wearing and physical distancing are critical, as individuals can be without symptoms and still be COVID-19 positive. Individuals who have been authorized to return to campus after testing positive must also conduct daily symptom monitoring before coming to campus or leaving their residence hall room. It is the individual’s responsibility to comply, and it is our shared duty as a community to act responsibly.
A symptom monitoring tool has been created within the existing VandySafe app for daily self-monitoring. Beginning Aug. 10, all undergraduate students must use this tool to prepare for campus arrival. We strongly recommend that all Vanderbilt University faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate/professional students also use VandySafe on a daily basis.
New features of the VandySafe app include:
- Self-Assessment Tool: Users are provided recommended actions based on answers to a series of guided questions
- Return to Campus Plan
- Vanderbilt University COVID-19 Updates
- Report a Concern
- Support Services
If a graduate or professional student develops any symptoms, they must call the Vanderbilt Student Health Center. If you are in research spaces, you also must notify your supervisor/mentor/lead researcher. If you are taking in-person classes or engaging in experiential learning roles, you must notify your instructors and associate dean that you are reviewing your health status prior to the start of any scheduled work, experiential learning or class period, or time on campus. Student Health will instruct graduate and professional students on the appropriate next steps, including medical appointments, self-isolation, clearance to return to campus/activities and more.
Per CDC guidance and Vanderbilt policy, any student returning/arriving to campus from abroad must self-quarantine at their off-campus residence (or an off-campus site) for 14 days before returning to campus.
Vanderbilt has assembled a classroom protocol team to work with faculty leaders and subject-matter experts to research, assess and develop both requirements and recommendations for classroom instruction and usage during the start of the 2020-21 academic year. These protocols were established based on guidance from the CDC, leading subject matter experts across our campus and a range of faculty leaders.
We are balancing the health, safety and comfort of our constituencies and our community with providing the meaningful experiences for students traditionally associated with Vanderbilt. These are temporary measures to deal with the challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves. We realize how important community and social bonds are to good mental health, and we have groups formulating plans and practices to promote interaction.
The university’s protocols with respect to “gatherings” prioritize core mission activities central to the university’s mission. Gatherings must be conducted in accordance with VU-established guidelines, and some gatherings must be approved. These requirements for in-person gatherings are subject to change based on public health guidance and Vanderbilt protocols.
The university will continue to provide additional updates in the coming weeks and encourages you to continue checking the Return to Campus website for frequently asked questions with the “new” and “updated” tags.
As the university continues to monitor the public health situation locally and nationally, we also will continue to work towards providing a comprehensive and transformative educational experience for our students while pushing forward excellence in our scholarship, research and creative expression endeavors for the benefit of the greater society we live in. Over the nearly 150 years of the university’s history—from starting as a new university in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, to surviving the Great Depression and two world wars, to confronting our racist past, current social injustices, and countless other national and global challenges—it is essential that we remember that Vanderbilt University has moved forward and grown in positive ways from every challenge we’ve faced due to our determination and commitment to excellence. While this global pandemic offers unprecedented challenges, we can and will learn from them. And by taking a data-driven and reasoned approach, we will overcome these difficult times together as One Vanderbilt.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology
Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair