On Wednesday, March 2, the University announced it will reduce the COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated individuals from weekly to monthly starting March 7, and will lift the indoor mask mandate in most University spaces starting March 14, according to a memo from Provost Deborah Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams to the community.
Beginning on March 7, students “who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters” will no longer be required to test weekly, which includes students who have received all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccination and, if eligible, a booster shot. The revised schedule assigns a testing week for each person based on their last name.
The University’s approach to monitoring and responding to COVID-19 is evolving to “not just focusing on numbers of cases, for instance, but looking at what the severity is, what the impacts of that those are, and, for our campus, are there hospitalizations, how well are the vaccines holding up, what's the severity of the of the disease and what are the impacts,” Assistant Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian on Wednesday. She stressed that these changes are being made to align with new CDC guidelines, and signal a shift towards increased individual responsibility.
Students are asked to submit their test on Wednesday or Thursday of their assigned week, while faculty and staff are asked to submit their tests on Monday or Tuesday in order to reduce strain on testing facilities. Samples can be submitted on a different week within the month if a student is not on campus during their assigned week.
Fully vaccinated and boosted students, faculty, and staff may continue to test weekly, if they so choose. Students, faculty, and staff who are not “up to date,” or are unvaccinated due to a vaccine exemption, will be required to continue to test weekly.
Ninety-nine percent of undergraduate students are fully vaccinated, as well as 98 percent of graduate students and 96 percent of faculty and staff, according to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard. Additionally, the memo stated that 94 percent of the University community has received a booster dose.
Current isolation policy remains in effect for those who test positive for COVID-19. Students must isolate for “a minimum of 5 days,” and “wear a KN95 mask for days 6-10 of isolation” if released on day 5. The campus will continue contact-tracing measures for individuals who test positive.
The University also announced that “[s]tarting March 14, face coverings will be optional in most University spaces.” Face coverings will only be mandated when “required by state or local agencies,” “instructed by Global and Community Health,” or “when faculty or staff conveners of a class, lab, gathering, or meeting require participants to wear a mask.”
At this time, in accordance with state and local laws, masks will still be required in McCosh Health Center and on TigerTransit.
Individuals who are not up to date on vaccinations and boosters were “strongly encouraged” to continue masking at all times when indoors and around others “to protect their own health and safety and the health of others.”
These changes come amid a surge of COVID-19 cases among undergraduates on campus. In the past week, there have been 336 new cases reported in the asymptomatic testing pool.
Izzo stated, “On Friday, the CDC made a number of changes and some new guidance,” about how we must “liv[e] responsibly with the COVID virus.”
The memo stated that “although COVID-19 infection is never welcome, the good news is that students’ symptoms have remained mild and there have been no hospitalizations.”
“Moreover, in the face of the spike in undergraduate cases, case rates for faculty, staff, and graduate students have remained low (consistent with the low case rates in our region),” the memo continued.
It also referenced the State of the University letter from President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83.
The announcement also listed specific guidelines regarding the return of students following spring break. Students “will be required to submit a test within 24 hours of returning to campus, or within 24 hours of March 14 for those undergraduates who have remained on campus during break, and to wear a mask until they have received a negative test result.”
Izzo relayed to the ‘Prince’ some of the thought processes that went into making these changes.
“The numbers of cases are one thing,” she said, “but the way that [it’s] impacting our ability to have in-person teaching, [and] our essential services to continue is something that we need to continue to watch closely.”
“That's [the] real indicator for us, as well, as mentioned, [the] severity of disease, [and the] hospital and healthcare systems around us,” she added. “Certainly even if things are going well on our campus, we certainly don't want to be burdening or placing more stress on the healthcare system. Those were some of the reasons behind the framework around these changes.”
The email announcement reminded students to foster “a non-judgmental campus environment in which people’s individual choice to wear a mask or not is honored.”
Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the ‘Prince’ that following the announcement, town hall meetings will be held in order to answer questions from students and faculty regarding the new guidance.
Sections of the change to the testing policy were inadvertently posted on the University’s COVID-19 policy website on Tuesday evening. At that time, a University spokesperson told the ‘Prince,’ “No decisions have been announced regarding changes to our COVID-19 policies.”
This story is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Assistant News Editors Bailey Glenetske and Lia Opperman contributed reporting to this piece.
Madeleine LeBeau is a News Contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram @madeleinelebeau, or on Twitter @MadeleineLeBeau.
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