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July 20, 2020 – Important Updates on Fall Semester and Return to Campus for Staff and Postdocs

Posted by on Monday, July 20, 2020 in Community Messages.

Dear colleagues,

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.

As part of our efforts to reduce density on campus, all staff whose work can be completed remotely should continue to do so as students return to campus this fall. Staff will be informed by their supervisors when and under what circumstances they are to return to work on campus and should not return until authorized. Your support of our mission, remotely and under such challenging circumstances, has been incredibly heartening and appreciated. As always, please work directly with your supervisor to answer any questions related to remote work.

We 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 developing plans to ensure a successful fall semester. Through all of this, 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 and supporting our faculty, staff and postdocs in their teaching, research and/or administrative efforts. 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

Staff and postdocs 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 call the Occupational Health Center (OHC) and may also contact their primary care provider. If OHC or the primary care provider’s office is not open and the symptoms are severe enough, the individual 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 OHC or the primary care provider’s office to open for assessment and COVID-19 testing as the provider determines. OHC and/or the primary care provider will instruct the individual on appropriate next steps. While awaiting test results, the individual must remain off campus in quarantine and keep their supervisor/mentor/lead researcher informed of their return-to-campus status.

At the current time, asymptomatic testing is not routinely recommended by the CDC and the American College Health Association for individuals who live in apartment-style housing or single-family homes. The Metro Nashville Public Health Department is offering free asymptomatic testing to anyone who wants it at their testing sites, which are identified at

Testing, positive case and recovery strategy details for faculty, staff and postdocs>>

Contact tracing details>>

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 staff or postdocs develop any symptoms, they must call the Vanderbilt Occupational Health Clinic and notify their supervisor that they are reviewing their health status prior to the start of any scheduled work period or time on campus. For those in research spaces, you also must notify your supervisor/mentor/lead researcher. Occupational Health will instruct the individual on the appropriate next steps, including medical appointments, self-isolation, clearance to report and more.

Per CDC guidance and Vanderbilt policy, any individuals (faculty, students, postdocs or staff) returning to campus from abroad must self-quarantine at their off-campus residence or an off-campus site for 14 days before returning to campus.

Symptom monitoring, quarantine and isolation details for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate and professional students>>

Classroom protocols

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.

Classroom protocol details>>

Gatherings protocols

We are balancing the health, safety and comfort of our constituencies and our community with providing the meaningful experiences 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.

Gatherings protocols details>>

Additional updates

The university will continue to provide additional updates in the coming weeks and encourage 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

Eric Kopstain
Vice Chancellor for Administration