Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,
As we approach the end of the fall semester, I’m grateful for your kindnesses and sacrifices that have enabled us to make it through the disruptions and uncertainties of the pandemic thus far. Our willingness to adapt and ability to remain flexible amid changing circumstances has largely kept COVID-19 at bay across campus and allowed us to enjoy an in-person residential educational experience this fall. Thank you for your individual and collective efforts.
I want to briefly update you on the current state of the pandemic on campus, particularly as we plan for the spring semester amid the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.
By now, most of you are aware that a new COVID-19 variant, omicron, has been detected in several parts of the world. A number of cases have been identified in the United States, including in Philadelphia. While some reports indicate that this new variant may be highly transmissible, early indications suggest that it may also be less severe than previous variants. So far, according to early reports, vaccinated individuals who have been infected with omicron and have become symptomatic have experienced mild to moderate symptoms.
That said, health officials continue to stress that it’s too soon to say definitively how omicron compares with other variants. They are still working to understand both the severity of this variant and the effectiveness of our current vaccines against it.
At this time, we have not made any changes to our COVID-19 practices and policies in response to the omicron variant. We continue to monitor it closely, and we will make necessary adjustments based on the latest science and guidance from public health and medical experts.
Several of you have asked what leads us to change course or make shifts in policy. The response may not satisfy you, but there is no one answer. The College’s COVID-19 Planning Group makes decisions informed by multiple sources of information, including the latest science and data available to us; regular conversations with campus community members, public health and medical experts, and our colleagues at peer institutions; and an ongoing assessment of the circumstances in the region and on campus. All of our decisions continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.
Cases on Campus
As of Dec. 9, this semester we’ve conducted 18,473 COVID-19 tests of students, faculty, and staff members, which have returned 48 positive cases, for a positivity rate of 0.26%. An additional 15 positive test results have been reported to us from tests conducted outside of our campus testing protocols, for a total of 63 positive cases this fall semester. After several weeks of very few positive cases on campus, this week we experienced a slight uptick, with six student positive cases and one employee positive case. Though our positivity rate on campus remains quite low, these recent cases remind us that we cannot become complacent in our efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The number of cases in our region is increasing. In Delaware County, 1,275 cases were reported for the week ending Dec. 5, which represents a 41% increase over the previous seven-day period. (These are total cases and not specific to any one variant.) You can view county-specific data on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) county view webpage. Fortunately, due to our masking and vaccine requirements, the positivity rate across the region does not correlate with the number of cases on campus.
Testing and the Winter Break
As of now, students, faculty, and staff members will not be required to perform COVID-19 tests during the winter break, regardless of whether you’re on campus, nor will you be required to test before coming back to campus. Should circumstances change dramatically, particularly in light of the emerging omicron variant, we are prepared to revisit this approach.
All students, faculty, and staff will be required to test once you return to campus, and we will communicate specific information about post-break testing early in the new year. Please keep in mind that, while testing can be informative and help detect trends in cases, it is not a preventive measure.
In keeping with the CDC recommendation that everyone over age 18 should get a COVID-19 booster shot, we expect to announce soon that all eligible students, faculty, and staff members will be required to receive a booster, with the exception of individuals who have an approved medical or religious exemption. We will share specific information once details are finalized, but I’m letting you know about this now so that those of you who are able to do so will get a booster shot during winter break rather than waiting for it to be required.
According to the CDC, individuals who initially received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster shot six months after being vaccinated. Those of you who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get a booster two months after being vaccinated. Specific information is available on the CDC booster shots information page.
We continue to explore options of hosting booster clinics on campus, but vaccine boosters are readily available at most area pharmacies.
Verifying Your Booster Shot
We encourage students, faculty, and staff members who have already received a booster shot to upload their updated CDC vaccination records according to the directions below:
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 email@example.com.
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.
- Click “Record Booster.”
- Select “Choose File” to locate the image file on your device that you wish to upload.
- Enter the date you received your booster shot.
- Select “Submit.”
Finally, let me say that I understand that everyone is exhausted by the pandemic. We all wish that we could move past the talk of masking, testing, and variants. We’re not there yet, but we have proven that by following the latest guidance and data; by adhering to our safety measures; and by continuing to act with patience, grace, and empathy, we can continue our collective pursuit of creating a more just and equitable world through the transformative experience of a Swarthmore College education.
I send you all my best wishes for a successful conclusion to the semester and a peaceful and restorative winter break.