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Aug. 24, 2020 – Return to Campus Update

Posted by on Monday, August 24, 2020 in Community Messages.

Today, Aug. 24, all of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges will have classes in session on campus for the first time since March 9. Plans developed with diligence and care over the summer to ensure campus is ready for faculty, staff and students to return are now fully in place. We are employing a robust and layered approach to create an environment that is as safe as possible for all campus community members.

The past week has gone smoothly, including the phased move-in process for residential students. While the university had its first limited cluster of positive test results among members of the football program—case numbers that are part of today’s update on the university’s COVID-19 public dashboard—our community was prepared.

Our Public Health Central Command Center is working diligently to ensure our contact tracing and testing protocols operate quickly and efficiently to identify close contacts and ensure that those who have tested positive or have been in close contact with COVID-19-positive individuals are not interacting with others on campus or in the Nashville community. Everyone who tested positive is in isolation per the university’s protocols, and close contacts are in quarantine.

It is critical that we each do our part to EDUCATE each other about HOW COVID-19 spreads. Doing so will decrease the risk of infection and help slow the spread of COVID-19 and maintain our ability to continue on-campus activities. If at any time our Public Health Central Command Center detects the potential for clusters of hot spots in a given program, then we may move to suspend in-person activities for the program. Timing for the resumption of activities by a program will be determined by the results of contact tracing and testing. Our approach will be data-driven, nimble and attentive.

The success of this semester will require all members of the Vanderbilt community—students, faculty and staff—to take personal responsibility to protect the health and safety of our community and to work together, and support one another, in doing so. We are all in this together.

What’s Coming Up

Tips for talking about wearing masks, physical distancing

To be as safe as possible, both mask wearing AND physical distancing are required. Both are required in all university public spaces, indoors and outdoors. Although mask wearing is not required for the limited time when someone is outdoors eating/drinking while sitting, physical distancing is strictly required while dining.

It can be uncomfortable to ask a fellow Commodore to put on their mask or to move 6 feet away. You may feel nervous or embarrassed to ask others—yet you feel compelled because you want to protect yourself and our community.

There are proven techniques that you can use to encourage compliance by others. The keys to success are to approach a person with respect and kindness, and not make assumptions about why they are not complying. Here are some tactics or phrases you can use to encourage compliance:

  • Let people know that Public Health AmbassaDores can provide masks.
    Example: “I notice you’re not wearing a mask. Do you need one?”
    Details: There are Public Health AmbassaDores who can provide masks. To find a PHA, contact the AmbassaDore Compliance Hotline at 615-343-1352. It is good to know where your local PHA is located so you can prepare ahead of time. Contact the hotline to find out who is closest to you.
  • Tell them who you mask up for.
    Example: “Could you wear a mask when you are near me? I wear a mask to protect my family.”
  • Let people know how their choices impact you.
    Example: “I feel protected when you wear your mask. Could you put one on?”
  • Provide positive reinforcement that will also encourage others.
    Example: “I really like your mask. Where did you get it?”
  • Kindly encourage people to wear masks correctly for effective protection.
    Example: “Could you please put your mask over your nose and mouth?”
  • If a person is within 6 feet of you, back up and tell them why.
    Example: “I want to be sure I stay 6 feet from you so we both are protected.”
  • If a person continues getting too close to you or others, respectfully request distance.
    Example: “Please take a step back. I think you are too close.”

If a person ignores your concerns or becomes aggressive, leave and call the AmbassaDore Compliance Hotline at 615-343-1352.

Tips for addressing mask wearing, physical distancing>>

Classroom protocols

The university has made substantial investments in classroom technology to support our educational mission, including upgrading classroom technology for livestreaming and recording in classrooms, building new video recording studios and providing guidance for faculty in using the classroom technology available. The university’s protocols were designed to meet or exceed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and were also based on input from leading subject matter experts across campus, including a range of faculty leaders such as the co-chairs of the University Working Group educational continuity subcommittee and the Public Health Advisory Task Force.

Things you should remember while attending classes on campus include:

  • Students must wear appropriate face mask/covering while in public spaces on campus, including during class.
  • Faculty and staff must wear appropriate face mask/covering while in public spaces on campus, and faculty must wear a face mask/covering or face shield during class.
  • Students are not permitted to eat or drink in classrooms—not before, during or after class.
  • Students and faculty must be appropriately physically distanced in the classroom (at least 6 feet of separation).
  • Face shields are being offered to faculty because 1) instructors may be required to project loudly and may not have access to amplification in all classrooms and 2) there may be students with hearing impairments who rely on being able to see the instructor’s face when speaking.
  • Students will be supplied with sanitizing wipes to take to their desks/seats to clean before class (similar to what one would do with gym equipment). Ideally, these materials will be located in areas that do not congest entry or exit from the classroom.
  • Each classroom door will have signage indicating maximum capacity that allows physical distancing to be achieved.
  • For classrooms with more than one door, there will be a circulation plan and entry and exit clearly marked.

Classroom protocols details>>

Student accountability actions for COVID-19 policy violations

The Office of the Dean of Students announced a revision to the student accountability sanctions for violations of the university’s COVID-19 policies and protocols on Aug. 19. Any intentional, pervasive or repeated violations of COVID-19 policies and protocols, including the university’s requirements for face masks/coverings, physical distancing, and maximum gathering size, will be addressed through the Office of Student Accountability, Community Standards and Academic Integrity. The university will impose significant penalties for violating the university’s Gatherings policy, whether on or off campus, because such gatherings have potential campuswide impacts. Gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people, and all must be physically distanced and masked.

The minimum sanction applied by Student Accountability if a student is found responsible for hosting a gathering that violates the policy will be suspension for a minimum of one semester; a first sanction may be as severe as expulsion, depending on the nature of and circumstances surrounding the violation. Attending, participating in, otherwise supporting, and/or concealing a gathering that violates the policy may also result in suspension or expulsion for a first offense. Students living on campus who are suspended or expelled for violating COVID-19 policies and protocols will be required to vacate the residence hall. The university will not issue refunds for tuition, housing costs, or fees.

All university community members also should be aware of Nashville’s guidelines concerning gatherings. Failure to comply with the city’s public health emergency orders can result in criminal penalties.

The Office of Student Accountability, Community Standards and Academic Integrity may also implement interim restrictions while students await the formal student accountability process if the university has sufficient evidence to conclude that the reported behavior presents a threat to the health and safety of our university community. Those interim restrictions may include but are not limited to: requiring students to sequester in their residence hall room or off-campus accommodation or elsewhere; prohibiting students from attending in-person classes or activities; restricting student access to university buildings; requiring COVID-19 testing.

Some key points of the university’s Gatherings policy, which began during Phase II in June, include:

  • While students may host small informal meetups of 10 individuals or fewer in large, public areas such as lobbies in which appropriate physical distancing is possible and face masks/coverings are worn, parties, social events and similar group activities, including those involving alcohol, whether on or off campus, are not permitted and pose a significant public health risk.
  • No guests are allowed in residence hall rooms. No informal meetups of any size are permitted in residence hall rooms.
  • If students choose to host a small, informal meetup at their residence in a public area, students and others attending must comply with VU’s COVID-19 protocols, which include physical distancing and wearing face masks/coverings at the same time and other personal safety practices, as well as adhering to any other applicable university policies.

Faculty and staff should carefully review the Gatherings policy to ensure they are adhering to the guidelines. The Vanderbilt Faculty Manual provides that faculty may be disciplined for violations of the university’s standards of conduct. The process for reaching a decision to discipline a faculty member is overseen by the dean in consultation with the provost. The university’s progressive discipline policy states that a staff member can be disciplined for violations of protocols and procedures governing safety, and such matters are overseen by Human Resources.

If you notice COVID-19 protocols are not being followed, report it by calling the Public Health AmbassaDore Hotline at 615-343-1352.

Addressing noncompliance details>>

Testing and Contact Tracing Flow, Notifications

Individuals who have received a COVID-19 positive test result or were informed outside of the VU/VUMC system (e.g., notified by Metro Public Health or another public health entity) that they are a close contact, should complete the Command Center webform, which goes directly to the Vanderbilt Public Health Central Command Center to ensure confidentiality.

Test results from individuals tested by VUMC, Student Health, Occupational Health or Vanderbilt surveillance testing are routed automatically to the Command Center. Individuals will receive direct communication from the Command Center about their isolation or quarantine period if they are considered a close contact, and they must contact Student Health or Occupational Health if they develop symptoms. The Command Center will communicate with the individual throughout their isolation or quarantine period to monitor any symptoms that develop and ensure they are well-supported.

Testing and contact tracing flow charts are available for community members to use when determining next steps after having symptoms, receiving a COVID-19 positive test result, or receiving notification of being a close contact of a person with COVID-19.

Contact tracing details>>

Undergraduate student testing details>>

Graduate and professional student testing details>>

Faculty, staff and postdoc testing details>>

Access to buildings on campus

Entry to buildings will be regulated and monitored in alignment with ACHA guidance. Where applicable, a Vanderbilt card/badge is required for access. As is always the case, exterior building doors that require card access should not be held or propped open for any other person. Access to academic buildings, or buildings in which in-person instruction is taking place, will generally be open between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and will not require a Vanderbilt card/badge during those hours. Access will be restricted on the weekends.

All residence halls and administrative buildings will require a Vanderbilt card/badge and appropriate access permissions for entry at all times. After entering a building, sanitize your hands at the nearest sanitizer station and follow all posted signage, keeping in mind that directional signage may be posted on the floor, as well as on walls and doors. Building maps, searchable by building name, and additional information on access to buildings on campus are available on the Return to Campus website.

Building access, entry and exit details>>

Quarantine and isolation for on-campus students

University Public Health Central Command Center officials, in consultation with the Student Health Center, will make medical determinations and assign campus residents to either diagnostic quarantine or COVID-19-positive isolation at sites specifically designated for these purposes. They also will release campus residents from quarantine or isolation to return to their campus residence hall room when deemed medically appropriate.

Students living on campus will be moved into quarantine housing in two scenarios. While a student with symptoms is being tested for COVID-19, they will be moved to quarantine housing until they get the test results. If the test is negative, they are approved to return to their room. If it is positive, they move to isolation housing. They will stay in isolation for a minimum of 10 days. Students will also move to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact through contact tracing. They will stay in quarantine for 14 days and await medical release.

Support for on-campus students moving to quarantine or isolation can be found on the undergraduate student quarantine, isolation and patient care FAQ.

Campus surveillance testing launches this week

The university’s ongoing COVID-19 surveillance testing program will begin this week to ensure as much as possible the safety and well-being of our community. This testing program will be based on analysis of COVID-19 test outcomes and other factors that will ensure a representative, meaningful and targeted sampling of the Vanderbilt community being tested. In follow-up to the pre-arrival testing program, all undergraduate students will complete their arrival testing this week. The program will also launch with testing of select graduate and professional students in various schools on Aug. 24 and will expand going forward.

We have partnered with Vault, a national provider of at-home saliva test kits, and the same provider we utilized for pre-arrival and arrival testing of undergraduates. Those selected to complete a surveillance COVID-19 test will be contacted directly by their school or department with instructions on where to pick up a test kit. Completing a surveillance test is mandatory for undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, staff and postdocs. By signing the Return to Campus acknowledgment, VU community members agreed to “submit to regular COVID-19 testing if and when VU requires.”

Graduate and professional student surveillance testing>>

Voluntary Faculty COVID-19 Surveillance Program available

As the university announced, a campus surveillance testing program will launch this week. The program is mandatory for students, staff and postdocs. The program is also mandatory for faculty members who are engaged in specific in-person teaching activities with students (for example, voice and wind instrument lessons).

Faculty who are interested in participating on a voluntary basis should complete the Voluntary Faculty COVID-19 Surveillance Program webform. Eligible faculty must be VU-employed, working on campus and engaged in in-person activities on campus, such as teaching an in-person course. Participation in the program is confidential, as are test results, except to the extent that information and advice are coordinated by the Public Health Central Command Center.

Contingency plans

University leadership, in coordination with the university’s Public Health Central Command Center and public health officials, will monitor COVID-19 test outcomes and trends to determine if changes are needed to campus operations.

While we hope to continue in-person classes for the entire semester, Vanderbilt University also may choose to transition to virtual/alternative platforms based on the following:

  • Local, state or national shelter-in-place advisories or restrictions that require remote-only learning
  • Quarantine and isolation capacity for the residential population
  • A surge in cases coupled with increased severity of illness among campus demographic cohorts
  • Contact tracing analysis (for example, a surge in cases tied to an event may be treated differently from a surge in cases tied to rampant community spread with severe illness)
  • Other factors that indicate that such a transition is appropriate

The university also may decide to “pause” in-person classes on a program-by-program basis for a period of time and move such classes to virtual/alternative platforms; for example, to allow undergraduate students living on campus to remain in their residence hall rooms. Such a suspension period also would be focused on additional actions to contain any potential spread. The university also may use this approach with specific populations within the university, such as a specific school or program or course, to allow time for additional contact tracing and testing to be conducted.

Triggers to online-only details>>

Outdoor tent safety and security protocols

The comprehensive plans for the use of outdoor tents this fall include information regarding fire code compliance and safety; severe weather communication, evacuation, and sheltering; and general safety and security. Occupants of tented areas should follow the instructions provided by tent staff in the event that any enhanced safety or security measures are needed, particularly evacuation for inclement or severe weather. All weather-related decisions—including those for inconvenient but not life-threatening weather (e.g., heavy rain with no lightning)— ultimately will come from the Office of Emergency Preparedness and be communicated to tent staff. VUPS officers and CSOs will respond to tents and relocation points as requested and, along with tent staff, will ensure calm and orderly evacuations as needed.

Evacuation and shelter situation details>>

VandyRide and other transportation modes

VandyRide will begin operating limited service with two shuttles, one on the Gold Route and one on the Black Route today, Aug. 24. There will be longer wait times for riders due to capacity restrictions related to COVID-19 safety during this time. Increased service and more on-demand options will be introduced during the fall semester, which will provide faster, more flexible service aligned with MoveVU goals. During limited service, shuttles will operate from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and will be available seven days a week.

To access VandyRide routes in real time, download the VandySafe app and go to the “Maps & VandyRide” section or visit the website. Once users are inside the app, they can select “route” in the drop-down menu in the upper left-hand corner and select all routes to see the routes on the map.

The university also has implemented enhanced safety protocols including:

  • Vehicles: Vehicles are inspected and high-touch areas are cleaned and sanitized at the start of each shift and between every trip or as needed, in addition to biweekly cleaning/sanitizing with steam. Vehicles are equipped with signage regarding wearing masks and other health and safety protocols. The Black Route vehicles operate at 50% capacity, and Gold Route vehicles operate at 75% capacity.
  • Drivers: All drivers are required to wear face masks/coverings and have their temperatures screened daily. COVID-19 sanitizing kits are carried by all drivers.
  • Riders: All riders must wear face masks/coverings and maintain physical distancing while boarding and riding on the shuttles.

In an effort to de-densify campus for health and safety, the university is implementing a campuswide electric scooter no-ride/dismount zone for the fall semester. We are working with scooter companies to ensure that scooters are not staged on campus and to implement a geofence that turns campus into a no-ride zone. Bikes are a great transportation option to use in place of e-scooters. Bicyclists must follow the circulation patterns on campus, yield to pedestrians in order to maintain physical distance, walk their bikes in dismount zones noted on campus such as the 21st Avenue pedestrian bridges, Rand wall and Medical Center Plaza, and park responsibly at bike racks.

VandyRide and other transportation details>>

What you might have missed

Updates to masking requirements

Face masks/coverings (e.g., disposable masks or cloth face coverings) must be worn by all individuals on campus at all times in public indoor settings (e.g., common workspaces, public spaces, hallways, stairwells, elevators, meeting rooms, classrooms, breakrooms, restrooms, etc.). Appropriate use of face masks/coverings is important in minimizing risks to the wearers and those around them according to both CDC and ACHA guidance. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. The face mask/covering is not a substitute for physical distancing.

Based on CDC guidance and recent updated studies, face masks/coverings need to fit the following criteria:

  • Face masks/coverings must adhere to CDC guidance.
  • Cotton face masks are allowed as long as they have multiple layers.
  • Any face mask/covering with a one-way exhalation valve is prohibited. These masks allow the wearer to directly exhale into the air, and do not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.
  • Neck gaiters are not recommended. The fabric used in neck gaiters has been shown through various studiesto not be effective. Many neck gaiters are stretchy knit, synthetics or fleece. These are the least tightly woven fabrics, which are least likely to provide a high filtration efficiency. A mask should have a tight weave and low porosity. Other studies can be found hereherehere and here.
  • Scarves and bandanas are not recommended, as based on studiesthey do not provide enough layers to be effective.

Face masks/coverings details>>

Arrival testing

Undergraduate students who have moved into on-campus housing should have received their test kit in their room. Students should have completed the arrival test within 48 hours of move-in. The instructions denote where completed tests should be dropped off for processing. Undergraduate students living off campus who did not arrive last week can pick up their COVID-19 test kits and health and safety kits this week.

Arrival testing details>>

Symptom monitoring

Individuals who have been authorized to return to campus, including all undergraduate, graduate and professional students, must conduct symptom monitoring every day before coming to campus or leaving their residence hall room. A symptom-assessment tool within the VandySafe app has been created to aid those coming to and living on campus. The symptom-assessment tool is mandatory for students coming to campus or living on campus. Remote-only students do not need to enter symptoms in the assessment tool. The symptom-assessment tool is also recommended for faculty, staff and postdocs coming to campus.

Student symptom monitoring details>>
Faculty, staff and postdoc symptom monitoring details>>

Public dashboard

Last week, the university launched a public dashboard for weekly reporting of new positive COVID-19 cases among members of the Vanderbilt community. It includes positive test reports for Vanderbilt students residing on campus; Vanderbilt students residing off campus who are coming to the university campus; and Vanderbilt University-employed faculty, staff and postdocs who are teaching, working or conducting research on the university campus. The university will not send updates about each positive case or cluster of cases; the dashboard is the best source of information about positive cases on campus.

COVID-19 public dashboard>>

+ Video Spotlight

WATCH: Positive Case Notifications

WATCH: Quarantine and Isolation

Upcoming deadlines for undergraduate students

Aug. 24 First day of classes for undergraduate students
Aug. 24-28 Undergraduates living off campus can pick up their health and safety kits at the Sarratt Box Office between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on the day assigned to them according to last name

Graduate and professional programs academic calendar

Aug. 24 School of Nursing Specialty Level (M.S.N.) program launches
Aug. 24 Divinity School classes begin
Aug. 24 Graduate School classes begin
Aug. 24 Peabody College classes begin
Aug. 24 School of Engineering classes begin
Aug. 26 School of Medicine Doctor of Audiology, Doctor of Medical Physics, Master of Science in Medical Physics, Master of Education of the Deaf, Master of Public Health and Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology programs launch
Aug. 27 School of Medicine Master of Science in Applied Clinical Informatics program launches
Aug. 31 School of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice program launches
Sept. 1-4 Divinity School Doctor of Ministry Virtual Intensive Program


The Return to Campus Update is part of our ongoing effort to provide you with the latest information regarding the fall 2020 Return to Campus Plan. While some of this information may not impact you directly, we want to ensure everyone in our community has easy access to this information. You’ll receive this update via email until September, and then we will switch to running it as the top story in MyVU, continuing through the end of the fall semester. Each edition also will be posted on the Return to Campus website under the Community Messages section.