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Nov. 16, 2020 – Return to Campus Update

Posted by on Monday, November 16, 2020 in Community Messages.

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, the university embarked on the challenge of bringing in-person research, scholarship and residential education back to life during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic continues, we have shown as a campus community that in-person discovery and learning not only are possible, but also can flourish with the help of rigorous campus safety protocols and a One Vanderbilt spirit.

Many members of the VU community are preparing to depart campus when in-person classes and activities come to a close on Friday and undergraduates switch to remote instruction and prepare for the final examination period, which ends on Dec.12. However, we have learned this semester that teaching, learning, discovery and social interactions will continue, even if only virtually for most. It’s important to remember that this period of transition is not an “ending,” but rather a planned shift due to the pandemic conditions. We will continue to interact with one another in every way possible and look forward to the launch of the spring semester.

Although transitions can be hard, the upcoming holidays and winter break are important opportunities to rest and recharge. We also should be proud, as a VU community, of all we’ve accomplished this semester—something that many thought would be impossible—offering in-person living and learning to all those who chose it, while still accommodating those for whom remote work and study were the best option.

During the winter intersession, many groups will be focused on getting ready for the spring semester wherein we look forward to using “lessons learned” to make the experience even better for all in our university community.

While this email will be the last formal Return to Campus Update until January, the university will continue to communicate important updates via email and other forums as needed before the start of the spring semester. Any updates will continue to be posted on the Return to Campus website and in the Community Messages section.

What’s Coming Up


Optional asymptomatic testing will continue this week for students who registered for a testing slot. The university cannot guarantee the turnaround times for the optional testing, which is generally 24–72 hours after the lab receives the sample from the Vault test kit. Students who need to cancel their optional testing timeslot should contact for assistance.

Students who did not register for optional testing this week, or who might need a more guaranteed turnaround time, 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 FDA authorized. Free access to testing is currently being offered through Jan. 20, 2021. In addition, students who may need to or wish to be tested after returning to their home region should explore their local testing options via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. In the event that local testing sites are not a viable option, students also can consider purchasing a test kit online at their own expense.

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 should proceed with one of the options above. Student Health does not offer asymptomatic testing. Student Health will continue to offer testing for symptomatic students during the intersession period. Visit the SHC website for specific hours of operation and other information.

The asymptomatic testing program for the spring semester will be announced by Dec. 15.


All members of the VU community who reside or work in the state of Tennessee have the option to visit one of the free Nashville and Tennessee assessment sites. For those who reside outside of Tennessee, the Health and Human Services website outlines state-by-state testing options, and tests are available for private purchase online through a variety of licensed vendors. Occupational Health will continue to offer symptomatic testing to faculty, staff and postdocs. Those who are asymptomatic should explore the options described above. All members of the VU community are encouraged to take all precautions necessary to safeguard their health and the health of others, both on and off campus.


Traveling during a pandemic requires caution. Many states recently have updated or issued guidelines about their travel requirements, and those traveling domestically should read state requirements before they depart and plan what they must have with them when entering the state. The VU Global Safety website now lists state-by-state requirements for easy reference.

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.

At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, the Vanderbilt Travel and Global Safety and Security teams will host a Traveling During COVID-19: Preparing to Leave Campus online session to discuss how students can best prepare for departure from campus this month, including domestic and international entry/exit requirements. In addition, individual Global Safety consultation appointments will be available to students from now through Friday, Nov. 20, and students should email Global Safety and Security Manager Andrea Bordeau directly to schedule an appointment. These sessions will recommence in December and January as students prepare to return to campus.

Learn more about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic>>


The winter holidays are traditionally a time of gathering with family and friends. However, as with all aspects of life in a pandemic, best safety practices require us to adjust our expectations and behaviors.

During the break, members of the Vanderbilt community can take steps to protect themselves and others by following key CDC guidelines around holidays and small gatherings. This includes such recommendations as:

  • Avoid activities in which physical distancing cannot be maintained or where taking protective measures may be difficult.
  • When possible, host and attend small gatherings outdoors. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is of sufficient size and is well-ventilated.
  • Wear face masks or coverings and, if hosting, ask guests to bring their own face mask, or consider providing face masks for guests.
  • When possible, ask all guests at holiday get-togethers to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for the prior 14 days.
  • Avoid self-serve food or drink options. While single-use options are preferred, if they are not feasible, identify one person to serve shareable items instead.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving and eating food.
  • If any symptoms develop, isolate from family and friends and get tested. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache or loss of taste or smell.
  • If identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, quarantine is required with symptom monitoring.


While many Vanderbilt students will be physically distant from campus over the extended winter break, the Student Care Network is committed to ensuring students do not feel disconnected from campus support services. The SCN has provided a brief Q&A related to the upcoming intersession period winter break transition that will help students connect with the support they need. Topics covered include:

  • What to do for immediate help in support of mental well-being.
  • What to do if you are feeling overwhelmed with exams.
  • What to do if you are a first-year student worried about the Flip.
  • How to stay connected to friends over winter break.
  • What services and support remain available while away from campus.
  • How to find support or medical providers locally (outside of Nashville).
  • What service and support are available if you are switching to remote study for the spring semester.

Managing transitions can be difficult, and anxiety is a natural response. Students are reminded that the SCN is available to help manage these transitions and provide a network of support and resources.

Learn more about Student Care Network resources over the extended winter break>>

What You Might Have Missed


In accordance with public health guidance and campus protocols, anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Those who are identified as close contacts of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

Students who are confirmed positive for COVID-19 or are an identified 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.


Many university buildings will be closed during the winter intersession when in-person classes and most activities are suspended. Research activities will continue under Phase II+ approval processes, under safety protocols at the direction of the lead researcher. Select Campus Dining services, student centers, libraries and Student Care Network services will remain available during this period. Please check the specific details for general university services on the Return to Campus website.


All first-year residential students, except those residing in North House, received a reminder email on Thursday, Nov. 12, with additional information and instructions related to the upcoming Flip. Students currently living in the Towers and Branscomb Quad (Lupton, Scales, Stapleton and Vaughn) will be moving to The Ingram Commons, and students currently living on The Ingram Commons will be moving to the Towers or Branscomb Quad. First-year students should follow all of the instructions for the scenario that best fits their end-of-semester plan. Additional details can be found on the Flip website, and any questions can be directed to the Office of Housing and Residential Experience at


Undergraduate course registration for the spring continues through Nov. 20. 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. Once registration has concluded, there will be an additional Open Enrollment period, and more details about this will be forthcoming. While COVID-19 has presented new challenges for everyone, the university is committed to supporting students as they progress toward degree completion and will continue to provide a robust educational experience for all students—whether they are in person or have been approved for remote study.


On-campus housing will reopen for residential students on Friday, Jan. 22, and the first day of spring semester classes is Monday, Jan. 25. 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. However, there may be additional requirements all students must follow when returning for the spring semester. These plans, including testing protocols and a signed COVID-19 Return to Campus Acknowledgment form, are being finalized and will be shared with all students by Dec. 15. In addition, some programs may have specific requirements dependent on the nature of the activities. The university or programs will communicate any specialized requirements as they are finalized.

It also is important to note that if CDC or other local guidelines change for travelers before students return, the university will implement those changes. The university will communicate any such changes via email as needed.


The Student Health Center is still administering free flu shots to all students who have not already received one. 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 also available, no matter location, by calling the Student Health Center at 615-322-2427.

Likewise, faculty, staff and postdocs are reminded that flu vaccinations are available at any Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinic or any of the walk-in clinics (not pharmacies) at Walgreens stores. Flu vaccinations are 100 percent covered as preventive care for all employees who are on a VU Health Plan.


The last day for all students to reserve tennis courts during the fall semester will be Friday, Nov. 20. An opening date for the spring has not yet been determined, but updates will be posted to and communicated via email.

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