Oct. 19, 2020 – Return to Campus Update
For the first time in months, Nashville has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 positive cases, beginning on Oct. 4. Public health officials are concerned that Nashville is in a position similar to the one it faced in mid-June, just before a surge that led to the city’s highest levels of positive cases. The university also has seen a rise in its student testing positivity rate in the last week from 0.49 percent on Oct. 11 to 0.67 percent on Oct. 18, and new faculty and staff cases from community transmission.
Although no cases of classroom transmission have occurred and Vanderbilt’s student positivity rate remains low, it is more important than ever for Vanderbilt community members to abide by university protocols at all times, whether on or off campus. The university remains in Phase II+ of the Vanderbilt Return to Campus Plan, which includes wearing face masks/coverings, limiting gathering sizes and maintaining physical distancing in all parts of the city and surrounding areas.
The university’s contact tracing has revealed that COVID-19 transmission among Vanderbilt community members has occurred due to interactions at off-campus residences and restaurants and other off-campus locations. Students, staff and faculty must remain vigilant about physical distancing and other safety protocols even in more informal spaces off campus.
Residential students are encouraged to stay on campus as much as possible to avoid situations off campus where the possibility of infection is higher. Students, staff, postdocs and faculty living off campus should take precautions and avoid high-density areas that could expose them to infections, including indoor venues where physical distancing and face mask wearing are not enforced, and large public gatherings, even where those gatherings are permitted by the city’s reopening guidelines.
The university will continue to monitor the situation in Nashville and the surrounding areas and seek guidance from experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the School of Nursing, and from local, state and federal health officials to determine whether to update current campus protocols.
What’s Coming Up
Vanderbilt to conduct exit testing for undergraduate students and additional optional testing for all students before the end of fall in-person classes
As the end of in-person classes on Nov. 20 approaches, and with the interest of protecting public health as students prepare to leave campus and return to the homes of their parents and families, Vanderbilt will conduct mandatory undergraduate student “exit testing” and also will provide a final optional COVID-19 testing opportunity for both undergraduate and graduate and professional students.
Final asymptomatic surveillance testing for graduate and professional students is currently planned for representative subgroups of the school/college cohorts during the week of Monday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Nov. 7, with the optional testing opportunity available as indicated below from Monday, Nov. 16, to Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Final mandatory asymptomatic exit testing dates for undergraduate students are currently planned for Sunday, Nov. 8, through Tuesday, Nov. 10:
- For undergraduates, these will be the final mandatory surveillance tests conducted for asymptomatic undergraduate students during the fall semester. The dates are subject to change, and students will be notified about any adjustments. The exit test plan gives undergraduate students the opportunity to test as they prepare to leave campus. Following the test, students should strictly adhere to all COVID-19 safety protocols during the period of time prior to returning home. As with other mandatory tests, undergraduate students are required to report to the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center for the exit test. Undergraduate students will receive further information on their schedule for exit testing later this month.
All students who are symptomatic should continue to contact the Student Health Center for evaluation and potential testing until they depart the campus or the city.
Optional asymptomatic testing dates for all students will be offered on a sign-up basis Monday, Nov. 16, through Wednesday, Nov. 18.
- Students will have the opportunity to take one test during the optional testing window. Students will receive further information on how to sign up for this optional test later this month. All optional testing will be administered at the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center. Students should anticipate that if their test is positive, or if they are identified as a close contact to a positive case, it may affect their travel plans and they should plan accordingly.
Quarantine and Isolation Options
Students will receive more information later this month about how they will select one of the above options if they have a COVID-19 positive test result.
If a student leaves campus or Nashville before their optional asymptomatic test result is known, and if they test positive, they still must comply with contact tracing and will be responsible for following public health isolation protocols wherever they are then located. Vanderbilt also will notify relevant local public health authorities for any appropriate local contact tracing for travels/activities between the date the test is taken and the date of notification of result. Retesting for potential false positive results will not be conducted for those who leave campus or Nashville.
For more details on the exit testing protocols and policies, review the exit testing FAQ.
Test results are an indication of the likely health condition of the student relating to COVID-19 at the time of the test. If a student tests negative in their final test, in order to maximize the likelihood of remaining negative, students should be extremely vigilant about following protocols leading up to their departure from campus. As a reminder:
- Students should follow strictly all safety protocols after their exit test, including practicing physical distancing, wearing face masks/coverings, avoiding gatherings and practicing hand hygiene.
- After receiving negative test results, students must continue to follow all COVID-19 safety protocols and should be especially observant of all preventive measures during the period of time prior to returning home.
- A negative test result is only valid at the time of the test and is dependent on the level of the individual’s virus load. If the individual is early in the infectious curve when they test negative, they may still become positive even after a negative test.
- Students and families should not assume that interactions with a person who tested negative are now “safe” without following all applicable precautions and safety protocols.
Families may choose to have their children who return home enter quarantine for a period of time upon arrival; the recommended period for quarantine is two weeks. Families also may choose to have their children tested upon arrival home at a public health testing site or other provider as available at their home location.
Testing protocols for the spring semester will be announced by Tuesday, Dec. 15.
A reminder about quarantine policies to help slow potential infections
There have been questions regarding students having to enter quarantine more than once if they become a close contact to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 on more than one occasion. If the student who tested positive a second time does not have documentation that they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, the student’s close contacts will have to return to quarantine per university policy.
The university developed this protocol out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of the Vanderbilt community. Per the CDC, data collected to date demonstrates that a person who has had and recovered from COVID-19 may have low levels of virus in their bodies for up to three months after diagnosis. Ninety (90) or more days after a first COVID-19 positive test, an individual potentially can be reinfected and expose others to infection.
Neighboring Belmont University to host presidential debate Oct. 22
The 2020 presidential debate season will culminate just a few short blocks from Vanderbilt as neighboring Belmont University prepares to host the final debate on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Vanderbilt University Public Safety has been communicating closely with the campus security team at Belmont University to monitor developments and determine any possible impact to the Vanderbilt community.
Currently, no major disruptions are expected on the streets bordering the Vanderbilt campus. However, members of the Vanderbilt community who live near Belmont are encouraged to monitor news reports regarding possible delays due to traffic and protests and demonstrations.
Vanderbilt community members are also reminded that the debate is a private event. Tickets will not be available for the general public. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis, seating for the debate will be extremely limited in order to abide by city and state public health guidelines. There also will be a high level of security for the event, involving coordination between city, state and federal law enforcement officials.
The debate is scheduled to air on most major networks from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Central time, Thursday, Oct. 22.
Members of the Vanderbilt community should remember that Vanderbilt’s COVID-19 safety and gatherings protocols apply both on and off campus.
Center for Student Wellbeing offers tips, resources for academic success
The Center for Student Wellbeing has developed a list of tips for students studying remotely, or even taking select courses online, this semester to help them succeed academically. The center has many resources to help all students, including workshops, individual academic coaching and an online learning space, which was developed for students to access a series of academic, time management and ADHD-related modules. Students can use the modules to evaluate skills, reflect on changes they may want to make, set goals for those changes, and access support along the way.
What You Might Have Missed
University has launched retesting program to validate asymptomatic positive tests
Vanderbilt University has launched a new retesting program for members of its community who receive a positive COVID-19 PCR test result but are without symptoms. Beginning last week, undergraduate students who are tested in the university’s weekly mandatory testing programs and other community members participating in Vanderbilt’s periodic testing who meet defined criteria will be retested to confirm their initial positive test result. Only those asymptomatic campus community members who are tested through Vault and student-athletes participating in the SEC athletics testing program (administered by third-party medical testing provider PAE) are eligible for the retesting program. Individuals tested through other programs or providers are not eligible.
First Fall Staff Assembly to be held virtually this Thursday
Chancellor Diermeier will deliver his first address to Vanderbilt staff during the inaugural Fall Staff Assembly this Thursday, Oct. 22. The event will be held virtually and is open to all university staff. Diermeier will share an overview of the university’s current progress and strengths, and the key role staff play in the university’s success. Diermeier also will present both individual and group awards to staff who have provided outstanding support as part of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The assembly will begin at 4 p.m.
Behavioral health televideo counseling services now available to employees through Aetna
Vanderbilt University’s health insurance provider, Aetna, is now offering televideo counseling services. Televideo services give individuals the opportunity to meet with a behavioral health provider on their own schedule. Psychiatrists, social workers, marriage counselors and more are available. These types of sessions cost the same as a face-to-face office visit.
Upcoming Events and Activities
Career Convos, hosted by the Black Cultural Center
2 p.m. today, Monday, Oct. 19
Chadwick Boseman Movie Series: Marshall, hosted by The Ingram Commons
7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 23