Guidelines were informed by recommendations from the CDC, NYS Department of Health, SUNY, UB faculty experts
By the University at Buffalo
In late August, University at Buffalo students, faculty and staff will return to campus for the start of the 2020-21 academic year. The global COVID-19 pandemic has made planning for this annual ritual more important than ever.
The university’s No. 1 priority is ensuring the health and safety of the UB community in an era of face masks and physical distancing. Toward that end, UB has developed and released a set of guidelines to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors on UB’s campuses.
The guidelines – which were shared with the entire campus community today and are also accessible on UB’s COVID-19 website – are based on the most recent available evidence on effective methods for preventing the spread of COVID-19. They were informed by guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York, as well as UB experts in infectious diseases, laboratory medicine and public health.
Everyone at the university will be required to follow the guidelines.
“We’re asking all members of the UB community to adhere to these guidelines to reduce the spread of coronavirus and help keep everyone as healthy as possible, which will ensure a safe and productive semester for all,” said Michael E. Cain, M.D., UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“UB’s guidelines were developed using CDC recommendations and the latest available science-based evidence, which included input from some of our very own experts who have been studying this virus and its impact closely,” added Cain, who chaired UB’s guidelines committee and also serves with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on the Western New York control room group that monitors COVID-19 in the region.
In addition to the guidelines, UB developed the “Together, we are UB” pledge as part of a universitywide health communication campaign. All UB students, faculty, staff and visitors are asked to demonstrate their shared commitment by pledging to follow the guidelines at all times while on campus.
In June, university leadership announced a return-to-campus plan that offers educational and research programs under a “modified in-person format” when the fall semester begins Aug. 31. Under this plan, the university will significantly reduce the density of people on campus by offering both remote and in-person instruction; classrooms will have only a 25% occupancy. Residence halls also will have reduced capacity.
Precautionary Quarantines & Face Coverings Required on Campus
According to the university health guidelines, all UB students, faculty and staff returning to or arriving for the first time to campus in August will be asked to undergo a precautionary seven-day quarantine prior to the start of the fall semester. Students, faculty, staff and visitors arriving in New York state from states that have significant community spread of COVID-19 will be required to quarantine for 14 days before coming onto campus, in accordance with New York state guidelines.
Face coverings will be ubiquitous both indoors and outdoors on campus, as everyone will be required to wear one at all times when in UB buildings, classrooms, labs and facilities, as well as outdoor spaces, to further minimize the risk of infections as individuals travel from place to place. Students who reside on campus will not need to wear a face covering in their own room when alone or with their roommate.
Within on-campus dining halls, dining areas and dining establishments, students, faculty and staff are required to wear face coverings until seated at least 6 feet apart from another individual. The university is requiring everyone to wear a mask when they are not eating or drinking inside a dining area. Masks must be worn when entering and exiting the dining area.
“We want everyone to adopt a culture that minimizes risks of getting infected and maximizes our ability to keep UB open,” said Thomas A. Russo, M.D., chief of the division of infectious disease in the department of medicine, Jacobs School, and a member of the guidelines committee.
“The cornerstone of our strategy is to prevent infections. Our first line of defense is the universal use of face coverings, physical distancing and hand hygiene. Until a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, we all need to rigorously use the strategies described in these guidelines and develop a culture designed to prevent cases,” Russo added.
All faculty, students and staff will be provided reusable face coverings, and may wear their own as long as it meets the criteria for an appropriate covering. Face coverings will also be available for purchase on campus.
Screening, Testing Protocols Based on Science
UB’s protocol for screening and testing of all returning faculty, staff and students is based on evidence-based methods recommended by the most recent scientific research. In accordance with the latest CDC guidance for higher education institutions, UB will implement a process of daily screenings of all students, faculty and staff, using chatbot technology, followed by targeted viral testing of those who have COVID-19 symptoms or who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to undergo isolation for 10 days.
In the event that infection becomes more widespread in the local community and/or campus, widespread testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection may be recommended in order to identify cases for isolation and to guide aggressive contact tracing and quarantine as appropriate. Both of these measures would mitigate further spread.
Daily testing everyone at the university isn’t recommended by the CDC, and wouldn’t be beneficial given the low prevalence of COVID-19 cases in Western New York, according to John E. Tomaszewski, M.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson, Ph.D. Chair of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School.
“When you do universal testing of a population with a low prevalence for active infection you have a low positive predictive value for the test. This means that the likelihood of truly having the infection is low even if you have a positive test. Lab tests may not operate as well as you would like in low disease prevalence situations,” Tomaszewski said. “That’s where the questionnaire used by UB for daily screenings becomes critical so that we can find out who is at higher risk and then direct the testing to where it really needs to go. It’s a very reasonable approach.”
UB is following CDC requirements for hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting in all of its facilities, including residence halls, dining halls and university buses and shuttles. Hand hygiene stations will be available across the university, and high-traffic public areas will be cleaned and disinfected more frequently.
The university will continually assess the guidance provided by the CDC and the New York State Department of Health for the operation of building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
UB is currently inventorying all HVAC systems on campus to assess the ability of each system to implement measures described in new CDC considerations, in order to assess the potential to increase ventilation rates, bring in additional outside air, increase air filtration and run continuously. The use of face coverings is mandated in all UB facilities to further reduce risk.
UB’s guidelines will be updated regularly as new guidance is provided and new knowledge emerges from the scientific community, including UB researchers studying the virus.
UB Screening, Testing and Contact Tracing Protocol Committee Members