Academic Year Opening Update from Provost Jones

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to the beginning of one of the most unprecedented semesters of our careers. Law School classes are successfully underway, and Durham and Manchester will follow Monday. We want to update you on the academic plan, provide broader information on our testing program and answer a few questions that we have heard from you. Our community's ongoing safety and health at all three of our campuses are of critical importance as we move forward.

Testing
The aggressive testing program for faculty, staff, students and contractors is in full swing and going well. The dashboards for our pre-arrival and baseline data are available here and updated every Monday and Thursday. We are also closely monitoring the state data which can be found here. Starting next week all students will be tested twice per week (unless their limited class schedule means they are on campus less frequently) and faculty/staff once per week, and we will continue to send regular testing emails. At the end of next week, we hope to go live with our daily results in a new dashboard format to keep the campus informed.

If a member of our community tests positive, they will receive notification from the testing service and be immediately contacted by Health & Wellness to answer health concerns and begin the contact tracing process. Any close contacts of the individual will be contacted first by Health & Wellness and then by the State of New Hampshire. The test result, or notice to quarantine for close contact, is private health information and will not be shared by UNH. If a student communicates this information to a faculty or staff member, they should not share it further and should ensure the student is in contact with Health & Wellness.

While we cannot share positive test results with individual faculty regarding students in their classes, we will use our existing HIPAA compliant health notifications to let faculty know if a student should not be in class. When a student is identified, the Dean of Students’ office is notified that the student will not be allowed to participate in face-to-face activities for two weeks. Faculty and TA’s will be informed by the Dean of Students’ office that the individual(s) will not be attending class and that the student(s) will contact you to make arrangements for keeping up with class requirements remotely. 

Health & Wellness, as well as contact tracers from the state, will contact those in isolation and quarantine daily. Anyone in isolation or quarantine is also being notified that if they do not comply with the state order, the State of New Hampshire enforces a fine of $1,000 per day on individuals who break isolation or quarantine. 

Wildcat Pass
We have also implemented the new Wildcat Pass program. Students must be able to produce a valid Wildcat Pass that shows they are complying with all protocols necessary to be on one of our campuses. This includes all the pre-arrival testing and attestations, agreement with the informed consent, having a recent valid negative test and maintaining the twice weekly testing schedule.  Students are encouraged to check their pass daily and rectify any non-compliance before coming to campus or leaving their dorm room. You, and any university official, have the right to ask to see a valid Wildcat Pass, though you are not required to do so.  

Incident Reporting
Students, faculty and staff are all receiving extensive information on our public health plan, mask wearing, hygiene and physical distancing. We will be vigilant in our enforcement of those policies and have already been so with incidents this week. Any non-compliant behavior (e.g. not wearing a mask, non-compliant Wildcat Pass) should be reported through the incident report form that goes directly to the Dean of Students.

This link is available for all three campuses and has been shared with the towns that host our campuses. This also extends to off campus apartments and fraternity and sorority houses. Student life has been working very closely with student leadership and groups. We should all acknowledge that groups of students that live and eat together are a living pod and as such, you may see them socializing within their group. However, in any case, these informal gatherings should be limited to 25 people.

Facility Modifications
Facilities and IT have completed their preparation of rooms and the addition of technology. It has been an arduous process that has included removing seats, adding cameras and microphones, and adding directional signage and spacing indicators. If you see anything that needs to be addressed in classrooms, please call 862-2467. AT has also completed training with additional student and staff support for technology in the classroom. You can also call that number to get rapid support in the classroom.

Some have asked questions about the exact spacing of seats within classrooms. The density in classrooms has been dramatically reduced to 50% or below, as has been communicated. Like dining facilities, classrooms and labs are unique environments with additional cleaning protocols including the ability to wipe down between uses and required use of masks. There is mixed guidance about distance between seats in the classroom. DOE says 3 ft, WHO says 1 meter, and the CDC say 6 ft where possible. We are encouraging students to maintain 6 ft whenever possible. We sought guidance from the N.H. DHHS and state epidemiologist who told us that 3ft was required and that a distance of 6 ft together with PPE would mean that your neighbor was not a close contact and would not need to quarantine if you were to test positive. 

As the teams have been working on each room, our first priority was decreasing density below 50% (most classrooms you will find are much lower), second, we sought to maintain 6 ft or greater separation between the instructor and the students (this way a positive case in the class would not require a faculty member to have to quarantine), and then we maximized the distance between the students, again to minimize the number of close contacts that may need to quarantine if we discover a positive case. Currently seating separation ranges from a maximum of 7 ft to a minimum of 4.5 ft. Student seating is arranged to minimize potential close contacts and eliminate the possibility of close contacts if possible. Please note that the new COVID capacity limit is for student seats only and does not include the instructor.

Some faculty have asked about moving classes outside if the weather is good. You are welcome to do these formal class gatherings outside with masks and physical distancing, but internet access may be difficult (Note: formal class gathering outdoors can exceed the limit of 25). If you would like tent space, please contact your associate dean. If you find your class is too full or does not have the required seating for safe distancing, please contact your associate dean. It is worth noting that the rooms that are the most challenged for space are the smaller rooms with 20 or fewer seats which is consistent with our gathering guidelines.

This summer has been spent diligently preparing our educational facilities and is the result of considerable effort to meet the goals outlined above. Faculty and staff working in their individual buildings are liable to have additional ideas. For example, your department may want to establish additional directional flow in corridors, or you might notice that chairs are kept 4.5 ft away from the wall and if we used that space, we could achieve 6 ft distancing in the classrooms. I’m sure there will be other ideas. Please work with your associate deans and department heads to implement ideas outside the classroom; I know facilities would be happy to help. Also, please contact facilities if, now or as the semester progresses, a room needs attention, such as if clear markings for placement of modular furniture should wear away through use.

Speaking of facilities, our effort to have everyone regularly tested to keep one another safe necessitates that we reserve access to campus buildings to our current UNH students and employees. Please remember that you should have visitors participate remotely. While there are no active plans to require the showing of IDs in buildings such as the MUB and Dimond Library, we always advise carrying your ID with you.

Helping each other thrive
We remain committed to making informed, data-driven decisions that are thoughtful and informed by public health officials. We will continue to implement successful practices and experiences that we see succeeding nationally. We have established one of the most aggressive testing programs in the country and it is running smoothly, with the ability to do more than 25,000 tests per week. It is successful in large part because of your participation. And it is your participation that will ensure many other aspects of campus success this semester. 

The key to our success will be how we, as a community, come together. There will be opportunities for improvement; some things will not go perfectly out of the gate. For example, on Wednesday night, there was a 100-student gathering reported when small ice cream social gatherings in two residence halls finished at the same time. When students exited, they naturally were drawn into a large group. Residential life quickly identified the problem, the students cooperated and dispersed quickly, and new protocols have been established so that small permissible events don’t funnel people together at the same time. We will all continue to identify opportunities to do better. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the associate deans and department heads if you see opportunities to improve.

The beginning of the semester is an amazing time, and this semester is no different. Students are excited to be here. As I walked around campus Friday morning, I was pleased to see 100% mask compliance and even more pleased to listen to the excitement of freshmen that attended over 67 academic sessions on campus. New and returning faculty and staff are also excited to be here and are looking forward to new learning. Thank you for all you are doing to maintain that excitement despite this pandemic. Let's work together to find success and ensure that COVID-19 does not weaken our uncommon commitment to student success.

Best,

Wayne Jones
Provost