Brandeis University plans to test over 1000 people per day for COVID-19 during the fall semester by testing students living on campus, faculty, staff and students who come to campus frequently twice a week. The high numbers of COVID-19 testing are a part of Brandeis’ fall semester learning plan, said Provost Lisa Lynch to The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. A high frequency testing program has been set in place and is currently being piloted for faculty, staff and students that are currently on campus.
The university administration is monitoring guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the federal government to ensure the safety of all members of the Brandeis community.
“In the coming months, people need to be really flexible, and unfortunately, the flexibility needs to be there because of the uncertainty that we face,” said Lynch. “People have to be ready for us to change the trajectory of where we’re going on the basis of new information and knowledge… about the virus.”
“What we’re asking people to do when they come to campus is to make campus your home,” Lynch said in a community check-in on July 7. “We’re trying to create a Brandeis bubble for individuals where we’re doing this high frequency testing and where everyone’s committed to this social solidarity and engaging in good public health… We’re asking people to reduce their travel, to keep it local and focus on your Brandeis experience.”
The Hoot met with Lynch, President Ron Liebowitz and Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky to discuss the university’s fall 2020 plans. Lynch said Brandeis is unable to make guarantees on what the spring semester will look like. More details about the spring semester will be available during the fall semester.
Testing and Health Measures
The university has begun a high frequency testing program for staff, faculty and students already on campus that will continue into the school year. Individuals on campus less frequently may get testing once a week or once a month depending on the frequency that they come to campus, Lynch said in an interview with The Hoot.
The university has partnered with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA to complete asymptomatic testing with the FDA-approved anterior nasal test. Individuals will swab the front part of both nostrils to complete the test. All the costs of asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for students, staff and faculty coming to campus will be paid by the university, said Lynch. If a student is presenting symptoms and goes to the health center for testing, Lynch said a student’s health insurance will cover the charge of the test. Students living off-campus will complete testing at the Brandeis Health Center.
Students, staff and faculty are expected to bring their own face covering unless they have a specific job that requires special personal protective equipment (PPE). The university does not allow face masks with valves that allow a person’s breath to escape.
“This high frequency testing will allow us to identify individuals who are testing positive very quickly and follow with contact tracing to see who is around them,” said Lynch in an interview. The university is currently working to determine other places on campus to complete testing besides the health center.
The university will be using a contact tracing model developed by Partners in Health (PIH), which is based on a contact tracing program used in Haiti to track the spread of cholera. Once an individual tests positive, a contact investigator from PIH will work with the individual to determine anyone that they had come into close contact with in the past 24 hours. Under the guidelines set by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, close contact is defined as being face-to-face with an individual without a face mask or physically distancing for more than 10 minutes.
Faculty, staff and students that choose to not follow health and safety measures will face repercussions, Lynch told The Hoot.
“It will be a progressive process,” Lynch explained. “Education first, but if somebody refuses to participate, refuses to wear a face covering or consistently is unable to do this, it will go all the way up to losing the ability to come to campus.”
“I know that the dean of students office, there is a lot of discussion not only with a formal social contract and a section in the rights and responsibilities devoted to COVID-19, but more broadly, doing education and programming that focuses on how we, as a community, come together and commit to take care of each other,” Lynch told The Hoot. First-year students will receive this training during orientation while returning students will receive training before returning to campus.
Self-isolation and Quarantine
Students who test positive for COVID-19 while on campus will be asked to go into isolation in designated rooms on campus. There are over 100 rooms that have been set aside for isolation for students that test positive for COVID-19, Lynch said in a community check-in which gathered over 1000 attendees. People who have tested positive will have isolation rooms with private bathrooms or shared bathrooms between multiple people who have tested positive.
“They will stay in those rooms until they are symptom-free and have passed two negative tests within 72 hours,” said Lynch in an interview. “The CDC has said that for the ‘average’ person going through the process, it will take 10 days after testing positive.”
Students will be closely monitored while in isolation and students that become more ill will be transported to the hospital. Students that test positive for COVID-19 but live off campus will be required to communicate with the university about policies about self-isolation.
Individuals determined to be in close contact with someone that tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to self-quarantine in their own room. Meals will be delivered to students and the university intends to put additional health protocols and assistance for those who are self-isolating or self-quarantining.
“If they have a shared bathroom, they would have to leave to use it but have a heightened protocol for those in self-quarantine,” Lynch told The Hoot. “They would also continue to get tested in that period of time.” As of print time, the CDC recommends that these individuals self-quarantine for 10-14 days after the moment of contact with the individual.
The Department of Community Living (DCL) is working to identify students coming in from out-of-state, so they can come to campus earlier than the start of the semester to quarantine, Lynch said. Students coming from Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey will not be required to quarantine.
She added the CDC is considering if two negative tests over a 72 hour time period would be an alternative to quarantining, but this has not been approved as of print time. Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou explained that students needing to quarantine will start arriving on campus as early as Aug. 10 to complete the quarantine period.
Students not required to quarantine before their arrival to campus will be allowed to bring some items to campus at a designated time before moving in to help with de-densifying efforts. The university is hoping to allow students to bring a parent or another individual to help assist with move-in and will have designated time slots for students to move in. Ou wanted to qualify that this is a general timeline of events and is subject to change in the coming weeks based on new guidelines and policies set forth by the state.
The university is monitoring requirements by the state of Massachusetts for self-quarantining upon entry into the state. “The hope had been that the state would continue to relax those restrictions going into August and that they weren’t going to be in place,” Lynch told The Hoot.
“The most drastic fear is that things will get so hot that the state [of Massachusetts] would prevent students from coming in until things ease in their home states,” President Ron Liebowitz said in an interview. “Because the fear is now with over 300,000 college-aged students coming back to the state of Massachusetts, the fear is that they would be active vectors into the communities.” Liebowitz estimates that there will be over 160,000 college students hoping to return to Boston in the fall. Liebowitz is in peer groups with other presidents of nearby universities to discuss their plans.
Academics and Teaching
Classes will be offered in three formats: in-person, online or a combination of in-person and online. Students who will not be in the Waltham area or living on campus and planning on taking a class that is a combination of in-person and online should contact the professor to ensure that the professor can accommodate the in-person component virtually. Classrooms have been outfitted with Echo360, a video streaming platform, to help with in-person and virtual components.
For in-person classes, faculty have been told that they have to accommodate students that may have to step out of class physically because of self-isolation or quarantine. Faculty may use Zoom to allow students to still attend classes or add additional coursework or assignments, according to Lynch.
Deans of all the schools at Brandeis have been asked to create a continuity plan for faculty members to identify a suitable replacement faculty member for a course in the case that the original faculty member is unable to teach for a period of time, Lynch told The Hoot in an interview. She added that these plans have been in place before COVID-19 but are more important now.
The university has 2,414 rooms available for students that are planning to live on campus and expect at most 2,400 students to return for on-campus housing. First-year students are the only students required to live on campus, but students in the greater Boston area will be allowed to live at home and commute to campus and international students that are unable to come to the U.S. will be exempt from living on campus in the fall.
Students that have already signed housing contracts will be guaranteed housing on campus. Upperclassmen have the opportunity to back out of housing for the fall, but it is still unclear if this means students are backing out of housing for the spring as well, as no concrete decisions have been made about the spring semester. And while students need to notify the Department of Community Living (DCL) by July 8 if they plan to live on campus, students can break their housing contract without penalty until July 31 if their plans change, said Ou in a community check-in.
Some students may be given alternative housing assignments so that all students will be living in singles. If a student is relocated to a new, more expensive housing assignment in the upcoming housing reshuffle, they will not be charged more than their original housing assignment… A limited number of students will be allowed to live in doubles, specifically single efficiency apartments that are doubles but have their own kitchen and bathroom.
The university is asking students to pack lightly for their return to campus because students may be asked to leave suddenly in the middle of the semester. All students will be required to vacate their on-campus residences during Thanksgiving break, as the university doesn’t yet know if students will be able to live on campus during the spring semester.
Room and board charges will not decrease even though all classes, study days and final exams will be completely remote.
“Even though there are a fewer number of instructional days, the actual number of days students are on campus, in part because we are bringing students to campus earlier….are an equal number of days,” Uretsky explained in an interview with The Hoot.
The meal plans for students living in residential areas with kitchens has been reduced by one-third to reflect accommodations for increased cooking in residential spaces opposed to the dining hall, Uretsky said in the community check-in.
The university is hoping to have a varsity athletic season in the fall that meets the health and safety guidelines, Lynch told The Hoot. Athletic director, Lauren Haynie, is talking with varsity coaches and other athletic directors in the greater Boston area to have a more locally-based season with schools in the greater Boston area, in accordance with guidance from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the CDC on protecting students, coaching staff and trainers, Lynch explained.
She added that varsity athletic teams will not have different safety standards for traveling compared to other groups on campus—athletics will need written approval from the provost for any travel.
Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) have been distributed to the custodial staff, and the custodial staff has gone through additional training “to keep themselves safe and everyone around them safe,” Uretsky told The Hoot in an interview.
No visitors are allowed on campus unless they have previously been cleared by the provost. Students are asked to limit their travel outside the greater Boston area, which includes not going back home or traveling during holidays.
“Once you come onto campus, we are trying to keep that community as self-contained as possible,” Lynch told The Hoot. “But we are saying the greater Boston area recognizing that people will be working off campus and may be coming from off campus.”
The Boston-Cambridge shuttle will not be running in the fall, according to Uretsky. The BranVan on campus, to Market Basket and into Waltham will continue to run. More BranVans will also be running to accommodate for social distancing and will be thoroughly cleaned throughout the day.
The university is watching a recent advisory note from the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requiring international students taking exclusively online classes to return to their home country, Lynch said in the community check-in. The graduate schools at Brandeis are working towards creating hybrid course options for students, so they are not forced to leave the U.S.
“We’re going to absolutely meet state standards and be more conservative than state standards,” Lynch told The Hoot. The university will continue to monitor progress on campus and “as we see what unfolds, we can revisit and revise our policies.”
Finances and Dining
For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the university will be increasing endowment spending to six percent to off-set the costs due to COVID-19, Uretsky told The Hoot. “Using the difference of what we would have been at, which was 5.5 percent on our pathway to five percent, we’re using that increment to pay for the myriad of extraordinary expenses that we are facing right now.” Students financial services is currently reworking financial aid packages and will send out the new packages to students in the next week.
Sodexo will continue to be the food provider for the university after the suspension of the request for proposal (RFP) process for a new dining provider was suspended in spring 2020 due to COVID-19, according to Uretsky. The RFP process will be suspended for at least the next two years.
The university is looking at ways to de-densify the dining halls to allow for indoor dining, but “it is a safe assumption that it will be carry-out only,” Uretsky told The Hoot. “We are also looking at some alternative spaces so there are safe areas, like outdoor tents, where students can safely eat outside of their room.”
The university’s website will continue to be updated in the coming weeks as more information about the fall semester is finalized.