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Nov. 9, 2020 – Return to Campus Update

Posted by on Monday, November 9, 2020 in Community Messages.

We have had an exciting couple of weeks, with activities across campus bringing our community together in new ways, and we have much to look forward to in the days ahead to finish the semester strong with classes and activities.

Many also are making personal plans for our annual Thanksgiving week academic break. This is a time to rest and restore and connect as safely as possible with friends and family. It is important for everyone to think about how they will care for themselves, their friends, their family and their community during Thanksgiving week, for the rest of the semester and through the extended winter break.

Even if staying in the Nashville area, we all must continue to be aware that the risks associated with traveling or gathering remain high. If you will be interacting with new sets of people, extra precautions should be taken. Students, faculty, staff and postdocs should enjoy their holidays as safely as possible by continuing to mask up, practice physical distancing, wash hands frequently and avoid large gatherings.

Students, faculty, staff and postdocs who are returning to campus for essential activities after the Thanksgiving break may have special guidelines issued by their colleges, schools, departments or programs that they must follow when arriving back to campus. Those guidelines will be communicated directly by leaders within those areas.

In our testing program, we have continued to see positive COVID-19 cases among undergraduates and graduate and professional student groups. However, these are largely linked through contact tracing to informal social interactions or household/roommate contacts. Classroom and research space transmissions have not been detected. This data highlights the need for following the safety protocols both on campus and off campus, in our academic lives and our personal lives.

Before Leaving Campus

During the next two weeks, it is extremely important that all students studying on campus continue to follow all university protocols to avoid being exposed to COVID-19 and testing positive, or being identified as a close contact of a person who has been confirmed to be positive for COVID-19. Students who need to isolate or quarantine over the next two weeks may not be able to return home on the date they currently plan to do so.

To prepare to leave campus, we encourage students to reduce the number of people with whom they have close contact. Any close interaction with persons outside the immediate household or residence will present an opportunity for infection.

Other ways students can avoid being exposed to the virus or becoming a close contact are to:

  • Dine only under conditions that are as safe as possible—this means no meals with others unless there is more than 6 feet of space for physical distancing between all at the table.
  • Practice physical distancing and face mask wearing at all times and limit interactions with non-Vanderbilt community members.
  • Go out only for essentials, such as grocery or medical needs.
  • Avoid restaurants and bars and do not host or attend social gatherings.
  • Participate in university-sponsored activities and programs, all of which adhere to safety protocols.

It can take five to eight days for an individual to develop COVID-19 symptoms. If a student has tested positive, they must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Students who are identified as close contacts of individuals who have tested positive must quarantine for 14 days.

Students who are confirmed positive for COVID-19 or have been identified as a close contact, and who wish to leave Nashville before completing their isolation or quarantine periods, must drive themselves home alone in their own vehicle or arrange to have a family member drive them home. They also must complete an acknowledgment through the Office of the Dean of Students. If students cannot travel by either of these methods, they must complete their isolation or quarantine in Nashville, either in on-campus quarantine and isolation spaces if currently living on campus or in their off-campus residence.

During the winter intersession period when in-person classes and activities are suspended (for undergraduates from Nov. 22 through Jan. 22), be advised that many of our university buildings will be closed in order to de-densify campus and otherwise prepare for the spring semester. Campus research operations will continue under Phase II+ conditions; however, due to coursework being conducted online and the undergraduate asymptomatic testing program being paused, undergraduate students are not allowed to work in research labs during this period. Those who wish to continue work on research projects should make plans with their faculty mentor or lead researcher and consider remote options for engagement.

Leaving Campus or the Nashville Area

Many states recently have updated or issued guidelines about their travel requirements. Those traveling domestically should read state requirements before they depart and plan what they need to have with them when entering the state. These may include:

  • Government-issued ID used when traveling that matches name printed on ticket or boarding pass.
  • A mask (or two) to wear in the airport, aircraft, public spaces, rideshare and/or other shared modes of transportation.
  • Hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol; note that TSA is allowing 12 oz. liquid hand sanitizer in carry-on luggage.
  • Disinfecting wipes to clean any shared surfaces you may use.
  • COVID-19 test results if needed for arrival destination.
  • Mobile phone charger. 
  • Snacks—Some airlines and airports currently have limited food and beverage service/options.

If traveling internationally, be sure to check the destination’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health or equivalent agency, or the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.

The Vanderbilt Travel and Global Safety and Security teams will discuss how students can best prepare for departure from campus this month, including domestic and international entry/exit requirements, during the Traveling During COVID-19: Preparing to Leave Campus online session at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Travel is known to increase risk of being exposed to COVID-19; therefore, anyone traveling is encouraged to carefully review data on the prevalence of COVID-19 at their final destination for the winter break.

Individuals are even more at risk if they interact with people from neighboring areas or other communities outside of their home community, and are at the highest risk when interacting with crowds that include people traveling from distant communities or are made up of people from different places.

All members of the Vanderbilt community should take safety precautions during travel, especially if using public transportation:

  • Reduce the number of stops on the trip.
  • Wear a face mask/covering at all times and consider also wearing a face shield.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people; if not possible on public transportation, sit as far away from other passengers as possible.
  • Carry and use hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol) frequently.
  • Use a disinfecting/sanitizing wipe to clean any touchable surfaces in the vehicle in which you are traveling. This includes planes, trains and other forms of transportation.
  • Recheck for any requirements or restrictions at your travel destination.

The least risky option for individuals is to travel by car alone or with others within a household. If in a car with others, whether they are from within a household or outside a household, individuals should wear a face mask and sit in the back seat if someone else is driving. If weather conditions permit, open the windows.

Arriving Home

The most cautious approach upon arrival home or visiting somewhere else during break is to quarantine for the first 14 days after arrival. This is especially important if there are vulnerable, higher-risk individuals living at home and/or there is high prevalence of COVID-19 in the local community surrounding Vanderbilt prior to leaving for home.

Quarantining in the home includes:

  • Eating meals in a private space or outdoors with family at least 6 feet apart.
  • Using separate servingware, utensils, glasses and plates.
  • Using a separate bathroom from other family members. If this is not possible, disinfect the bathroom after each use.
  • Avoiding physical contact including hugging, kissing and shaking hands.
  • Wearing a face mask and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet when in the presence of others.
  • Restricting movement within and outside the home.

If quarantine is not possible, individuals should stay physically distant from family household members, wear a face mask/covering, and avoid close contact for the first 14 days home.

Gatherings and activities while home and during the holiday breaks

The CDC has shared considerations about virus spread risk at holiday celebrations. Gatherings with people who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than those with people who live in the same area.

Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering’s location, or where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Again, as noted by the CDC, individuals are even more at risk if they interact with people from neighboring areas or other communities outside of their home community, and are at the highest risk when interacting with groups or crowds that include people traveling from distant communities or made up of people from different places.

During the break, members of the Vanderbilt community can take steps to protect themselves and others, including, among other things, following key CDC guidelines such as:

  • Avoiding activities in which physical distancing cannot be maintained or taking protective measures may be difficult.
  • Asking all guests at holiday get-togethers to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for the prior 14 days.
  • Avoiding any self-serve food or drink options. Use single-use options or identify one person to serve shareable items instead.
  • Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving and eating food.
  • Isolating from family and friends and getting retested if any symptoms develop, including but not limited to fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache or loss of taste or smell, or if notified of being a close contact of someone who tested positive.

Arriving for the spring semester

On-campus housing will reopen for residential students on Friday, Jan. 22. The first day of spring semester classes is Monday, Jan. 25.

Because the CDC does not currently require a 14-day quarantine period for travelers to the United States from abroad, Vanderbilt will not require this for students who are abroad during the winter break and plan to arrive for in-person on-campus activities for the spring semester. However, a quarantine is required if the person was exposed to the virus during travel. If the CDC or other local guidelines change for travelers from abroad before students’ return, the university will implement those changes.

Note that for countries that have specific travel restrictions, students will need to abide by CDC or other federal agency guidance. ISSS is available to support students if additional guidance is needed.

The university currently plans for all students, whether returning to campus from abroad or from locations within the United States, to follow all of the same arrival protocols for the spring semester. Those plans are being finalized and will be shared with all students by Dec. 15.

There may be additional requirements all students must follow when returning for the spring semester. This may include testing and shelter-in-place requirements. Some programs also may have specific requirements dependent on the nature of the activities. The university or programs will communicate any such requirements as they are finalized. 

Spring semester courses and programming

Impressed by the diligence of the vast majority of Vanderbilt students in following campus health and safety protocols during the fall, the university community is looking forward to the spring semester.

Undergraduate course registration for the spring begins today, Nov. 9. Deans and faculty are continuing to develop and review course schedules, and the university plans to offer more in-person courses in the spring. Students who want to take a greater number of in-person classes are encouraged to work closely with their adviser to develop their class schedule. The university also is applying lessons learned from the fall semester to adjust and enhance its approach to supporting our students academically, socially and emotionally, and protecting their health and safety as much as possible with regard to testing and other COVID-19 protocols.

Building on fall programming, physically distant social activities and virtual opportunities, such as concerts, game nights, crafting sessions, outdoor fitness classes, multiple speaker series and film watch events, also are being planned for students.

COVID-19 has presented new challenges for everyone, and the university is committed to supporting students as they progress toward degree completion. Vanderbilt will continue to provide a robust educational experience for all students—whether they are in person or have been approved for remote study.

What’s Coming Up

Final mandatory asymptomatic testing and optional asymptomatic testing reminders

Final mandatory asymptomatic testing for undergraduate students will be Sunday, Nov. 8, through Tuesday, Nov. 10. Other asymptomatic testing programs conclude the week of Nov. 16.

All students also are encouraged to think about their planned date of departure and determine if they should sign up for an optional asymptomatic test before they leave campus. The registration to sign up for a testing slot closes on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

The university cannot guarantee the turnaround times for the optional testing. The optional testing will be conducted at the on-campus testing center located in the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center utilizing Vault test kits, and samples are shipped to a lab each evening. Once the lab receives the samples, turnaround can be 24–72 hours after the sample has been received.

If a student needs a more guaranteed turnaround time or testing outside of the optional testing dates offered for asymptomatic tests, they are encouraged to visit one of the free Nashville and Tennessee assessment sites or consider CareNow facilities or American Family Care facilities in the area. The Student Health Insurance Plan currently provides access to COVID-19 testing free of charge as long as the test is ordered by a licensed medical provider and is FDA authorized. Free access to testing is currently being offered through Jan. 20, 2021.

For travel letters that require a physical exam or a medical professional sign-off stating that an individual is fit to travel, students should make an appointment with Student Health. Student Health professionals will perform whichever physical is required and assist with the completion of paperwork. If students also require asymptomatic testing, they would then need to proceed with one of the options above for asymptomatic testing. Student Health does not offer asymptomatic testing.

Student Care Network shares tips, resources for managing transitions

The Student Care Network recognizes that Vanderbilt students may be feeling stress in anticipation of the end of the semester or preparing to leave campus for the extended winter break. Managing transitions can be difficult and naturally causes anxiety. Remember that the SCN is here to help students manage these transitions.

Students are encouraged to reach out to the Office of Student Care Coordination to schedule an appointment if they are feeling stress or anxiety or would like to know more about the wellness resources available to students through the Student Care Network during the winter break. The OSCC can help a student create a wellness plan to keep them feeling grounded while nurturing their resilience during their time away from campus. Students concerned about their physical or emotional safety during the extended winter break are encouraged to reach out to the OSCC for support.

First-year undergraduate students can prepare for “The Flip” by:

  • Scheduling a virtual health and safety inspection between Nov. 16 and Nov. 22.
  • Using packing supplies available in the lobby of residence halls.
  • Planning ahead to spread out the work.
  • Packing nonessentials first.
  • Reviewing instructionson how to pack various items.
  • Reaching out to OHARE@vanderbilt.edu with any questions or concerns.

Students can prepare for the extended winter break by:

  • Reaching out to medical providers now to refill necessary prescriptions.
  • Getting a free flu shot at the Student Health Center before leaving campus.
  • Remembering that the Student Health Center will be open regular hours weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays, for students remaining in Nashville during the extended winter break. After-hours provider assistance is available, no matter location, by calling the Student Health Center at 615-322-2427.
  • Reaching out to their University Counseling Center provider if they have an existing relationship to discuss a wellness plan to use over the extended winter break. Consider reconnecting with providers from home if needing immediate support during the extended winter break.
  • Remembering the value of maintaining a routine during times of transition. Try to maintain sleep, exercise, eating and study schedules.
  • Reaching out to friends and family for support and maintaining safe social connections.
  • Remembering there are nationwide services available that can provide support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
    • Text HOME to the Crisis Text Lineat 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor, from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.
    • Students of color can also text STEVEto the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to speak with an urgent care counselor dedicated to supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color.
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineat 1-800-273-8255.
  • Developing creative ways to process emotions and increase resilience. Some strategies to use include, but are not limited to: exercise, dancing, journaling, deep belly breathing, painting, laughing, limiting social media, learning a new craft, setting healthy boundaries, spending time in nature, trying new recipes, praying and meditating, coloring and drawing, volunteering, and reading for fun.
  • Downloading Headspace to help reduce stress, improve focus, improve sleep, and engage in mindful movement exercises.

What You Might Have Missed

Indoor dining pilot to include limited seats at The Commons Center

Beginning today, Nov. 9, the university will extend the existing indoor dining pilot to include approximately 50 seats at The Commons Center Dining Room. These seats are in addition to the 125 seats spread across the Sarratt Student Center, Rand Hall and Central Library Community Room.

As part of the pilot, all dining furniture has been arranged to accommodate 8 feet of physical distance. All furniture should remain in its proper place and diners should not move furniture for any reason. Additional signage has been placed throughout the dining areas, and it is important that all members of the campus community who use these dining spaces strictly adhere to campus protocols and posted signage. Face masks or coverings should be removed only while actively engaged in eating or drinking. Face masks or coverings should be put back in place immediately after eating and before moving about. Individual use of these indoor dining spaces will be limited to 20 minutes.

This indoor dining pilot is scheduled to last through the end of the semester, and the success of the pilot will help further inform future plans for campus dining options. Any changes to campus dining for the spring semester will be announced before the start of the semester on Jan. 25, 2021.

Learn more about the new indoor dining pilot>>

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