Release Date: January 29, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Classroom desks are spaced apart. Testing stations hum with activity. Faces are masked. The number of students, faculty and staff on campus is significantly reduced.
It’s all according to plan as the University at Buffalo welcomes the return of students and faculty, both in-person and remotely, with the start of the spring semester on Monday.
UB’s plans and health protocols for the spring semester build upon lessons learned and successes from the fall semester, with the hope that campus-life will begin to return to normal next fall.
While COVID-19 remains a persistent threat locally and globally, UB leaders say the university is ready to continue providing transformative educational experiences and conduct groundbreaking research while ensuring the campus community remains safe.
“Our students, faculty and staff have done a remarkable job navigating the pandemic. Through careful and inclusive planning, and by adhering to the university’s science-based health and safety guidelines, the UB community succeeded in advancing the university’s mission of fostering positive change through research, education and service,” according to a joint statement from President Satish K. Tripathi and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs A. Scott Weber.
“Now, as we continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19, we look forward to the new semester. As always, we are here to support each of you in your academic, research, scholarly and professional endeavors,” the statement continues.
Students moving in this weekend
Like the fall semester, UB anticipates that roughly 4,500 students will live in residence halls and campus apartments this spring, an occupancy rate of roughly 60%.
Those students, many of whom are moving in this weekend, will be reminded of UB’s science-based health and safety guidelines, which were highly effective in reducing the spread of the virus on campus during the fall semester, says Christina Hernandez, interim vice president for student life.
As was the case in the fall, all members of the UB community will be required to wear a mask at all times indoors and outdoors — except within students’ own residence hall rooms or enclosed private offices — maintain physical distancing, wash hands frequently and stay home when feeling sick. Adherence to these guidelines helped to prevent spread in the classroom and residence halls, university officials said.
“The overwhelming majority of our students followed the guidelines, which was key to keeping the number of positive cases relatively low during the fall semester,” says Hernandez. “We did, however, have some instances where the rules were broken and the university took corrective action to ensure the health and safety of the university community.”
If students are found to be violation of campus expectations, Student Life refers them to a public health class where campus guidelines are explained in greater detail. Further non-compliance with UB’s health guidelines could result in additional sanctions, including the possibility of removal from campus housing or suspension from on-campus classes or activities.
Students to complete screening before returning to campus
As previously announced, students planning to live, work or take classes on campus — or utilize campus facilities such as libraries, fitness and recreation facilities, and dining halls — must attest that they have completed a seven-day precautionary quarantine before returning to campus.
Per SUNY mandate, limited exceptions to this requirement will be made for students who hold jobs and for student-trainees in medical and health fields and related disciplines.
Students must also 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.
Students, faculty and staff must also continue completing the Daily Health Check throughout the spring semester if they live on campus, come to campus on any given day.
Also, any student 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 previous three months are exempt from the return test.
Enhanced on-campus testing
Last fall, UB monitored the prevalence of the virus on campus by conducting more than 36,000 tests of students, faculty and staff. Results showed a positivity rate of less than 1%, significantly lower than the regional positivity rate.
UB will expand testing this spring. Starting Feb. 1, the university will conduct weekly tests of students, faculty and staff who regularly come to campus, a requirement announced by SUNY on Sunday.
Additional details about the enhanced testing program are available on the UB COVID-19 website.
UB will share the aggregated results of these tests on its COVID-19 dashboard, providing daily updates to give the UB community a clear and concise understanding of the prevalence of the virus among UB’s on-campus population.
Academics and reduced density
Like the fall semester, UB will offer a modified in-person instruction format, with a mix of in-person, fully remote, and partially remote courses.
Students surveyed last fall said this approach was generally effective, with a majority of students indicating that the structure and delivery of courses was consistent with expectations.
This spring, approximately 67% of UB’s classes will be held remotely, and 33% will be offered in-person. For the latter, UB has carefully scheduled courses and classrooms, limiting in-class student instruction to 25% capacity to help maintain a safe level of density on campus.
More specific details about the different instruction models, as well as grading policies, are available on the Office of the Registrar website.
There will not be a spring break in keeping with SUNY guidelines stating that holiday periods will not be permitted given the associated risks pertaining to the spread of COVID-19. The semester is scheduled to end May 15, and decisions about commencement will be announced at a later date.
Also, like the fall semester, 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.
Wellness and services
Last fall, many students expressed their struggles with mental health amidst the challenges of the fall semester.
Through UB’s Health and Wellness office, students have access to a variety of services, including medical care, telehealth appointments, telecounseling, wellness programs and wellness coaches, skill-building workshops, stress management favorites like yoga and meditation, self-help resources and more.
UB Counseling Services is continuing a number of workshops into the spring semester to address these unique circumstances and to provide ongoing support to students in need.
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 will be open on-campus with reduce seating and also made several improvements, including expanding service to mobile ordering for four new locations: Stacker's, Blue Dragon at C3, The Bowl and Build Your Own Pasta at The Cellar.
Student clubs, activities and recreation will resume with online programming and some in-person programming, adhering to state guidelines on the size of public gatherings.
UB Athletics’ winter sports will continue as scheduled, following NCAA and state protocols on coronavirus testing of student-athletes, coaches and staff, as well as prohibition of fan attendance at games and matches. Spring sports teams will begin practice and start competition later in the semester.
In accordance with state eligibility rules, students and faculty in health-related disciplines who have contact with patients are eligible to be vaccinated, as are students who serve as student teachers in local schools. In addition, UB faculty engaged in in-person instruction are also eligible to receive the vaccine.
These vaccinations are not being provided by the university, however. They are taking place at local hospitals and at county and state vaccination sites, one of which is run by the state Department of Health on UB’s South Campus.
Plans subject to change
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.
More information about these plans, as well as the health and safety requirements, are posted on the university’s COVID-19 Planning and Response page.