Successes and lessons learned from the fall helped university improve plans for spring
By the University at Buffalo
University at Buffalo leadership on Thursday announced the university’s plans for the spring semester, which will mirror operations in the fall in that UB will follow a modified in-person format. That means courses will be delivered using a mix of in-person (and physically distanced) instruction, as well as remote learning.
UB’s plans for the spring semester build upon lessons learned and successes from the fall semester, which saw a low prevalence of on-campus positive coronavirus cases for most of the semester. Toward that end, the university will continue the surveillance testing program that began in the fall. All students, faculty and staff who will maintain some presence on campus will be required to participate regularly in surveillance testing.
UB’s plans for the spring were announced in a universitywide email from President Satish K. Tripathi and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs A. Scott Weber: “We remain very grateful for our university community’s dedication to advancing our research mission and providing transformative academic experiences for our students as we continue to navigate the pandemic. As always, we are here to support each of you in your academic, research, scholarly and professional endeavors.”
The university’s plans, which are subject to change in response to new state guidelines, were developed by the 23-member campus planning committee. The committee coordinated the work of several subcommittees comprising 137 members of the UB community, and included guidance from SUNY and state and local health officials.
UB’s spring semester will begin on Feb. 1. There will not be a spring break due to SUNY guidelines stating holiday periods will not be permitted given the associated risks pertaining to the spread of COVID-19. As previously scheduled, the semester will run through May 15. Decisions about commencement activities will be announced at a later date.
Several measures will again be in place for the spring to reduce density on campus:
√ Occupancy rates in residence halls and campus apartments will be at approximately 60%, with the number of residential students on campus between 4,500 and 4,700.
√ UB has also limited in-class student instruction to 25% capacity to help maintain a safe level of density on campus.
√ The in-person workforce on campus has been reduced by at least 50%. As such, there will be approximately 3,000 or fewer faculty, staff and vendors on campus daily.
UB will follow the systemwide mandates SUNY announced recently. For example:
√ Before the spring semester begins, students planning to live, work or take classes on campus, or utilize campus facilities such as libraries, fitness/recreation or dining halls, must first confirm via HUB attestation that they have completed the seven-day precautionary quarantine prior to returning to campus. Per the SUNY mandates, limited exceptions to the precautionary quarantine requirement will be made for students who hold jobs and for student-trainees in medical and health fields and related disciplines.
√ Students who plan to return to in-person learning or campus housing in spring 2021 must use the Daily Health Check tool to prescreen daily for travel history, COVID-19 history and symptoms for two weeks prior to their return. This SUNY mandate also applies to faculty and staff who plan to be on campus. Per a UB requirement, students must also continue completing the Daily Health Check throughout winter session and the spring semester if they live on campus, visit campus on any given day or reside in Erie or Niagara counties.
√ Any student who will be living on campus, taking classes on campus or coming to campus to participate in activities or utilize services must either present evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days prior to their return, or participate in on-campus testing as soon as possible but no later than five days after returning to campus. Students who present documentation of a positive diagnostic test within the prior three months are exempt from the return test.
√ UB will also continue to follow its health and safety guidelines, which are updated regularly based on the latest guidance and scientific knowledge.
√ As was the case in the fall, all members of the UB community will be required to wear a mask at all times, maintain physical distancing, wash hands frequently and stay home when feeling sick.
More information about UB’s plans for the spring semester and the health and safety requirements are posted on the university’s COVID-19 planning and response page.
In drafting the plans for the spring semester, UB drew extensively from successes and lessons learned during the fall. For example, many students expressed their struggles with mental health amidst the challenges of the fall semester. As a result, for the spring, UB Student Life will continue to offer telehealth and telecounseling services.
In addition, Student Life has implemented a prescription delivery service, and will continue to assign a case manager to each student in quarantine/isolation on campus.
Campus Dining and Shops also made several improvements, including expanding service to mobile ordering.
Other lessons learned and successes include:
√ A significant reduction of on-campus density achieved through careful scheduling of courses and classrooms, carefully planned physical distancing within residence halls and campus facilities and support of a remote workforce universitywide.
√ The modified in-person instruction format, with a mix of in-person, hybrid in-person/online or fully remote courses, was generally effective, with a majority of students surveyed indicating the structure and delivery of courses was consistent with expectations.
√ High compliance among the UB community, which helped the university maintain a low COVID-19 positivity rate. The guidelines were supported by the development of a student compliance policy and a universitywide public health campaign.
√ The launch of an innovative surveillance testing program to monitor the prevalence of the virus among the university community. More than 36,000 tests were conducted, with a positivity rate of less than 1% (0.44 %), significantly lower than the regional positivity rate.
√ A safe level of normal student experiences, including on-campus housing, dining and student clubs and activities, all of which will be offered again in the spring.
√ Implementing rigorous testing and health protocols for UB Athletics, enabling the successful launch of fall and winter sports at the university.
√ UB faculty members’ ability to adapt and effectively deliver meaningful instruction, whether in person or virtually. Faculty effectively transitioned to remote instruction, with more than 736,000 Panopto lecture hours viewed and 295,000 Zoom sessions totaling 150 million minutes.
√ Transparency to the campus and larger communities by communicating important updates via a comprehensive COVID-19 website, which received more than 300,000 page views during the fall semester. The university will continue to update this site regularly, including providing a daily report on coronavirus cases.