“In light of what we have learned from our experience and data from other colleges and universities, we are preparing for the possibility that we will be able to welcome back significantly more undergraduate students in the spring,” University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 wrote in a mid-semester update to the campus community today.
He added that the University anticipates releasing a decision concerning spring plans during the first week of December and will soon be surveying a sample of undergraduates to assess how to best accommodate students on campus.
Eisgruber also announced the creation of an on-campus testing laboratory expected to open next month, “which will facilitate our COVID testing process and provide results within twenty-four hours.”
The message comes around halfway through a mostly-virtual semester, with fewer than 300 undergraduates living on campus, taking online courses, and some on-campus graduate instruction. Among over 30,000 tests administered on campus through the University’s mandatory asymptomatic testing program, only 23 have returned positive results — a positivity rate of under 0.1 percent.
Eisgruber noted that “on-campus spread has thus far been non-existent,” with only one on-campus undergraduate testing positive. Eight graduate students have also tested positive since the start of the semester.
“These results are consistent with reports from many other American campuses with extensive asymptomatic testing protocols,” Eisgruber wrote. “On campuses that have instituted and followed responsible public health guidance accompanied by extensive testing, there is as yet no evidence that the virus is spreading in instructional settings or in dormitory housing.”
“Infection rates for undergraduates at most of these institutions have been remarkably low, with the vast majority of cases that arise being traceable to off-campus social events,” he added.
However, Eisgruber added that if the University is able to invite back students, residential life would still “be far more constrained than what existed before the pandemic began” and the University will be exploring ways to accommodate students safely.
“Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun and Dean of the College Jill Dolan will soon be distributing a survey to a representative sample of undergraduates to help us assess how we can best accommodate an on-campus undergraduate population in the spring if indeed we can invite more undergraduates back,” he wrote.
Eisgruber added that he wishes he could make an earlier announcement concerning spring plans than the first week of December, but the University must contend “with factors beyond our control, including changing infection rates and their impact on the regulatory environment.”
The University originally announced a plan in early July to welcome back around half of undergraduate students in the spring, prior to a complete reversal in August.
“Though the early fall has gone well on this campus and for many of our peers, the next six weeks will provide additional, and crucial, information,” he wrote.
This story is breaking and will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.