Published August 26, 2021
Updated August 27, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. — With students arriving back on campus this week after a year-and a-half of mostly remote instruction, the University at Buffalo is well-prepared to ensure the fall semester is both safe and successful.
Updated health and safety guidelines enacted by the university, which align with the latest scientific guidance from public health experts, will minimize the spread of the coronavirus and its variants, as in-person learning activities and other aspects of campus life return to normal.
Chief among these protocols:
“UB’s faculty, staff and students are eager to return to an active and vibrant campus this fall with a full range of university activities planned, including academic experiences, athletic events and a wide range of other on-campus activities. The health and safety of the UB community remains our utmost priority. To ensure the wellbeing of our students, faculty, staff and visitors, we have enacted a robust and science-backed set of health and safety protocols, including a student vaccine requirement and an indoor masking policy, which will help ensure a safe and successful school year,” says A. Scott Weber, UB provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
UB’s health and safety guidelines, updated over the summer to address the surge of the delta variant, aim to provide the safest environment possible for all members of the university community.
The guidelines are based on the most recent scientific research on effective methods for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and were developed with university-wide involvement by a committee of UB faculty and staff with expertise in infectious disease, public health and environmental safety.
All students — except a small cohort with health or religious exemptions — must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in in-person classes and activities or live on campus, in compliance with a State University of New York mandate that went into effect on Aug. 23 with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
Under this policy, students must submit proof of first dose by Aug. 30, and then proof of completed vaccine series by Sept. 27, which provides them with a five-week grace period to fulfill the full vaccination requirement. Students who do not comply with the vaccination requirement will be dropped or resigned from their in-person courses.
As of Aug. 25, more than 27,000 students – 90% of the student body – have provided UB with proof they are already fully vaccinated. Of the 6,800 students expected to live in university-owned and operated residence halls and apartments, more than 6,600 have submitted proof they are fully vaccinated. The university has a process to ensure the remaining students receive the vaccine; those students who do not comply with the requirement cannot live on campus.
“Our exceptionally high student vaccination rate, combined with other health and safety guidelines, such as indoor masking and wearing face coverings outdoors when gathering in large groups, will make the campus a very safe environment for students to live, learn and receive the full college experience they have been patiently waiting for,” says Brian Hamluk, UB vice president for student life.
While employees are not required by the state to be vaccinated, they are being strongly urged by the university to do so, as well as submit proof of vaccination. Approximately 5,125 employees – about 64% of UB’s workforce – have provided proof of vaccination as of Aug. 27, and UB expects that number to grow considerably by next week as officials are in the process of gathering and verifying proof for about 3,000 additional employees who are returning to campus this fall. Any employee who does not submit proof of vaccination will be required to participate in mandatory weekly surveillance testing and must wear a mask indoors and outdoors on UB campuses.
All students, employees and visitors – regardless of their vaccination status – must wear face coverings indoors.
“The surge in COVID-19 cases is happening largely because the people who should be wearing masks — those individuals who aren’t vaccinated — are not wearing them,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and a member of UB’s health and safety committee. “The honor system has been an imperfect solution, so asking everyone, regardless of their vaccination status to wear a mask indoors, will ensure mask use by the unvaccinated.”
He adds: “Further, there has been an increase in breakthrough cases in the fully vaccinated due to the delta variant. Therefore, universal mask use indoors will minimize the opportunity for transmission and will aid in protecting everyone.”
Specifically, anyone at UB must wear face coverings in the following settings:
Face coverings are not required inside personal rooms at residence halls; while eating in on-campus dining areas; and when employees are alone in their offices or in their assigned personal workstations (e.g., cubicles) away from the public and coworkers.
Also, vaccinated UB students and employees are not required to wear face coverings outdoors on UB campuses, except at large gatherings of 100 or more people. However, unvaccinated individuals must wear face coverings while outdoors on campus in any setting.
Surveillance and wastewater testing
UB will conduct weekly saliva testing at each of its three campuses.
Students and employees who have submitted proof they are fully vaccinated are not required to participate.
But individuals who are on campus for classes, activities or employment and have not been fully vaccinated are required to undergo weekly saliva testing.
Additionally, UB researchers in coordination with Erie County will continue conducting regular surveillance testing in wastewater samples collected from multiple sites on campus, including academic buildings and residence halls.
The wastewater monitoring is important for the safe return to campus because it allows UB to monitor the campus community, and to see if cases are present and if they are increasing. Because this testing can identify asymptomatic cases, it will provide campus leadership with early warning that the virus is circulating. In some cases, it may enable researchers to track down cases specific to buildings.
Monitoring health, reporting positive cases
Even with the return of in-person campus activities — classes, campus clubs, sporting events, etc. — the spread of infection on campus is expected to be low due to vaccine requirements, indoor masking policies and other health and safety protocols.
However, positive cases on campus are anticipated. As such, all students and employees, regardless of vaccination status, should closely monitor their health and fill out the Daily Health Check form that’s required of all students, employees and guests who live on or visit campus. If members of the campus community develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay home and get tested immediately.
Any student who tests positive COVID-19 must report their test result per the current UB confidential reporting form. Employees who test positive are advised to report it to their supervisor and contact UB’s Office of Human Resources.
Campus notifications will not necessarily be sent out for each reported case. The university will continue to report on-campus positive cases to the COVID-19 dashboard. UB will assist the Erie County Department of Health with contact tracing to identify individuals who were in close contact with a person who has tested positive.
Isolating and quarantining
If a student or instructor tests positive, individuals who have been in close contact with that person in a classroom setting, provided they were properly masked, do not need to quarantine or get tested unless they develop symptoms, per CDC guidance.
For residential students who test positive or who are a close contact of someone who has tested positive, UB has designated space in residence halls where students will be required to quarantine or isolate. The students will be provided food and care while in quarantine or isolation. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to all remote learning resources will be available so students can meet their academic commitments.
Off-campus students will be advised to quarantine or isolate at their residence. The university will assist any off-campus student who has difficulty obtaining food and care.
Employees who test positive will be instructed to contact Human Resources and their primary care provider and stay home to isolate. Employees who are a close contact of someone who has tested positive are instructed to monitor their symptoms, and if instructed by the department of health, to be tested and potentially quarantine.
Disinfecting classrooms and office spaces
According to the latest CDC findings, surfaces in public spaces are now considered low risk for spread of coronavirus. However, in an abundance of caution, disinfectant will be provided to faculty and staff for use in classrooms, offices and other on-campus areas.
UB continuously monitors the latest guidance from the CDC, the New York State Department of Health, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) professional associations. The university has made recommended adjustments to HVAC systems where feasible to ensure optimal indoor air quality.
These adjustments include upgrading filters, increasing the proportion of outside air, extending the run times of occupied building settings, and balancing temperature, static air pressure, and humidity conditions.
For more information about UB’s fall semester plans as they relate to COVID-19, please visit the university’s COVID-19 Planning and Response page.