Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly two years ago, the College has pledged to make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of our campus community members, while, at the same time, doing all that we can to provide students with an engaging, enriching academic experience. In that spirit, I write to share the COVID-related updates detailed below as we begin the spring semester amid a significant spike in COVID-19 cases.
Clearly we are in a different situation than we were during previous COVID surges. More than 99% of our students and employees are vaccinated, and, as previously communicated, we are now requiring students, faculty, and staff members to get a booster shot by Jan. 31 or as soon as they are eligible. (Additional details are below.) We know more about the virus and how it spreads, and the omicron variant that is contributing to the current spike in cases has proven to cause mostly mild to moderate symptoms, if any at all, in individuals who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. We also know that our practices and policies, such as indoor masking, have been effective in helping create a safe environment for our campus community members.
At the same time, this latest variant is highly contagious, and the number of cases is high and continues to rise. Modeling and experiences in other countries suggest that this current surge will peak in the weeks ahead. As a result, we must make certain short-term adjustments to help fulfill our commitment to your health and safety.
This email contains a great deal of information, but it is important that we have a shared understanding of the efforts underway to mitigate this period of the pandemic.
Start of the Academic Year
Based on the current increase in cases and our conversations with the medical and public health professionals with whom we consult, we expect to see a larger number of positive cases on campus during the first few weeks of the semester than we’ve experienced previously. In an effort to limit those cases and reduce the spread of the virus, we will begin the academic year as previously scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 18, but in-person instruction will not resume until Monday, Jan. 31.
During the week of Jan. 18, no classes will be held either in person or online; instead, during this preparation week, students will engage in a variety of asynchronous academic assignments from faculty. We will shift to remote classes the week of Jan. 24, before resuming regular, in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 31.
We expect the majority of students to return to campus next week when residence halls open on Saturday, Jan. 15, at noon. However, the approach outlined above gives students the flexibility to choose to return to campus within the period between Jan. 15 and Jan. 30. All students who plan to return on or after Jan. 15 must complete this move-in registration form by Jan. 12 at 5 p.m. ET. Doing so will help us plan for your arrival. (Students who are already on campus, such as those who received emergency housing approval for the winter break, and student-athletes who have returned or will return to campus prior to Jan. 15 do not need to complete the form.)
Start of the Academic Year Schedule
- Residence Halls Open — Saturday, Jan. 15 at noon
- Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday — Monday, Jan. 17
- Preparation Week Begins — Tuesday, Jan. 18
- Remote Classes Begin — Monday, Jan. 24
- In-person Learning Resumes — Monday, Jan. 31
Testing and Isolation During Move-In
Testing Before Returning to Campus
Students are strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours, or a rapid antigen test within 24 hours, before returning to campus. Students who are able to do so and receive a positive result must not return to campus and must immediately notify Worth Health Center staff by emailing email@example.com. The staff there will provide additional instructions on isolation protocols and information on when students are able to return to campus.
Student Testing Upon Arrival
All students will be required to perform a rapid antigen test immediately upon their arrival on campus. Tests will be waiting for students in their assigned rooms within their residence halls. Students who receive a positive test upon arrival must immediately contact the staff at the Worth Health Center by calling the nurse on call at 610-328-8548. Individuals who are reasonably and safely able to return home to isolate will be encouraged to do so. Otherwise, individuals who test positive will be immediately relocated to isolation housing for a minimum of five days. Again, Worth Health Center staff will provide additional information on isolation protocols.
Testing for students already on campus will begin on Monday, Jan. 10.
All students will receive more information in a separate email later today from Director of Student Health and Wellness Casey Anderson.
Student Isolation Housing
As I stated earlier, we expect to experience more positive cases this semester than we have previously. Fortunately, we’ve increased our isolation housing capacity significantly. However, if our isolation housing reaches capacity, we may follow a model several other schools have adopted and require students who test positive to isolate in place in their rooms. In some cases, that may mean isolating in residential spaces they share with their roommate(s).
I appreciate that this may make some students and family members uncomfortable, but the data tells us that, by the time an individual tests positive, they’ve likely been contagious for several days, and their roommate(s) would have already been exposed. The roommate(s) in those situations will be tested daily during the period of isolation.
Additional Changes to COVID-19 Policies
We are making revisions to our COVID-19 policies and practices for all students, faculty, and staff members, including those on testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation practices, and we will communicate those changes once they’re finalized in the days and weeks ahead.
While the College has not changed its masking protocols at this point, an increasing number of medical and public health professionals are urging individuals to upgrade from using cloth masks alone, citing the high transmission rates associated with the omicron variant. We encourage everyone to use high-quality, well-fitting, disposable masks, worn so the edges fit tightly enough to reduce any openings around the nose and mouth. Several articles are available offering information on different types of masks individuals should consider.
Employees’ Return to Work On Campus
Last week, I informed all employees that those who are able to work remotely must do so for at least the first two weeks of January. In some areas, individuals or offices may be required to work on campus sooner than that to support College operations as students begin to return to campus. Supervisors in those areas will communicate specific plans as appropriate.
All employees working on campus are required to perform a weekly COVID-19 test using an Everlywell test kit, just as you did throughout the fall semester. You can pick up test kits at the same locations used last semester. Those locations are listed on our Faculty and Staff COVID-19 Testing Information page. We expect to transition to the use of rapid antigen tests for employees in the near future. We will share specific information on updates to testing protocols next week.
My thanks and appreciation to those of you whose responsibilities have required you to work on campus throughout the pandemic to support College operations. Please continue to follow all campus safety protocols.
Staff members whose jobs permit them to continue working remotely without disrupting College operations should continue to do so through Jan. 28. Those offices should plan to resume normal operations on Monday, Jan. 31. This remote-work precaution is in the interest of all of our campus community members, as it allows us to reduce the number of people on campus during a time of particularly high COVID-19 transmission.
Again, we will share specific information on testing and other updates to COVID-19 protocols as soon as they are finalized.
I recognize that this current surge in cases is causing significant disruption for many of you — from managing school closings and elder care to periods of isolation. Just as I’ve asked members of the President’s Staff, I am asking all supervisors to exercise maximum flexibility and understanding while also balancing the operational needs of the College.
COVID-19 Vaccination Booster Requirement
As I wrote last week, the data shows we can significantly minimize the impact of COVID-19 on ourselves and each other by being up to date on our COVID-19 vaccinations, including by receiving a booster shot. In keeping with recommendations from the CDC and consistent with our COVID-19 vaccine requirements that are already in place, we will require all eligible students, faculty, and staff members to receive a booster shot by either Jan. 31 or, if not yet eligible by Jan. 31, within 30 days of becoming eligible for the booster. The CDC has detailed information on when you’re eligible to get your booster shot.
If you have already received an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination that has been approved by the College, you will continue to be exempt from this requirement.
We are planning to hold several booster clinics on campus throughout the spring, starting in late January, and we will share additional information on those clinics in the near future. However, we strongly encourage those of you who are eligible to be boosted to do so as quickly as possible on your own. Please note: Our partners at RiteAid will facilitate the on-campus booster clinics and can accommodate only students, faculty, and staff members; unfortunately, family members will not be able to participate in booster clinics hosted on campus.
Students and employees who are unwilling to comply with this requirement and who do not have a College-approved medical or religious exemption will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including expulsion or termination.
Verifying Your Booster Shot
Once you receive your booster, or if you have already received one, you must update your vaccination status in MySwarthmore.
Students can upload their updated CDC COVID-19 vaccination card, including the date of their booster shot, to the student health portal. The student health portal can be accessed through MySwarthmore. If you have questions about how to provide your information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Faculty and staff members can upload their updated CDC COVID-19 vaccination card by doing the following:
- Log in to MySwarthmore at myswat.swarthmore.edu.
- Select the Employee Main Menu.
- Select the COVID-19 Vaccination Record page.
- Select Record Booster and enter the date of your booster.
- Select Browse to locate the image or picture file to upload your vaccine card, then select Submit.
- Please be patient after selecting Submit and allow the system to process the upload. Selecting the Submit button multiple times may create duplicate records and delay the verification process.
Access to Campus and Events
We are in the process of updating our vendor and visitor policies; we will communicate more information on those in the near future. At this time and until further notice, we are prohibiting spectators — including students, faculty, and staff members — from attending campus events, such as athletic contests. We also strongly encourage those of you organizing in-person meetings, such as staff training sessions, retreats, and for other purposes, to move to remote meetings whenever possible.
Public access to the libraries, with the exception of limited research appointments to Special Collections, is suspended until Jan. 31.
Access to the Matchbox remains limited to authorized students, faculty, and staff members. In addition, individuals who use the Matchbox must now remain masked at all times, including while exercising.
We understand that these changes may be inconvenient, but we believe they’re appropriate given how highly transmissible the omicron variant has proven to be. Our hope and expectation is that these are short-term adjustments and that we will be able to revert to prior practices in the weeks ahead, assuming transmission rates decline.
Spring 2022 Online Information Sessions
We will hold two online information sessions next week to help address questions and topics related to the spring semester — one for students and families, and one for faculty and staff members. Invitations to those sessions are forthcoming.
As I have said on numerous occasions, I know that many of us are feeling some combination of exhaustion, frustration, and exasperation due to the constant disruptions forced on us by COVID-19. As this note reflects, we are dealing with the reality that COVID will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and we must find ways to further reduce its impact and continue our return to a more normal way of life without jeopardizing our community’s health and safety. Your continued adaptability, grace, and compassion will serve you, your friends and peers, and the greater community well on our journey to that shared goal.