Our Plans for Spring Semester 2022
January 5, 2022
Dear Boston University Faculty and Staff,
As we welcome in 2022, we do so with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing and a surge in cases due to the Omicron variant. With the effort of all members of our community, we successfully completed the fall 2021 semester. I am grateful to everyone for your important contributions to this effort and the extraordinary work that made it possible to provide the full in-person, residential experience to our students.
The Omicron surge has raised concerns and questions about what we should expect as we start the spring semester, especially when the majority of our students rejoin us in two weeks. As we have done since the beginning of this global pandemic, we continue to follow the science and the advice of our medical and public health experts. I am writing today to update you on our planning. We will resume in-person teaching and learning when our classes start on January 20 with accommodations available, whenever possible, for students, faculty, and staff who test positive or have temporary disruptions to their caregiving responsibilities. These temporary accommodations are outlined in detail below and will be reassessed before February 18 to determine whether they should be extended further.
What We Know about the Omicron Variant
One feature of the Omicron variant is clear: it is much more transmissible than previous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We expect that, by now, the majority of the COVID-19 disease we are seeing in Massachusetts is due to the Omicron variant. As has been reported elsewhere, we are seeing infections in members of our community who have been vaccinated as well as those who have received a booster shot.
We saw a large number of infections in the Boston University community on both days when we tested last week—the positivity rate each day was over 7 percent. We expect similar infection rates as we resume full capacity operations in coming weeks. Mask wearing and widespread testing continue to be the most effective means of decreasing the spread of the virus. Although we saw a spike in cases in the last weeks of the fall semester caused by Omicron, our multilayered protocols continue to be effective at preventing spread in classrooms, laboratories, and studios. The disease cases continue to be linked to social gatherings, travel, and shared meals, where wearing a mask is challenging or other precautions may not be taken.
Although we will continue to use PCR testing and isolation to check the spread of the virus in our community, the transmissibility of the Omicron variant will make it difficult for us to dampen the number of cases, as individuals contract the disease from outside our community.
The second emerging feature of the Omicron variant is that it appears that vaccinations (and boosters) are effective at preventing serious disease.
Our vaccination (and booster) mandates are essential to protecting our community from serious illness. We have set February 4, 2022, as the date by which every eligible member of our community should have received the booster. Please get the booster as soon as you are eligible. Don’t wait for our deadline. Once you have received the booster, please upload your credentials to the Healthway website. To upload your vaccination or booster credentials, you can access details here.
Planning for Spring Semester
Classes Being Held between Monday, January 3, and Wednesday, January 19, 2022.
- Several graduate programs in the School of Medicine, the Goldman School of Dental Medicine, and the School of Social Work, as well as a number of intensive (short duration) graduate programs began classes on Monday, January 3.
- These programs are being taught using remote learning through January 19, when we plan for the programs that are still ongoing to resume in-person learning with the rest of our programs.
Spring Semester Classes Scheduled to Begin on January 20, 2022.
- Because our community is highly vaccinated, we are not anticipating major changes in our plans to start the spring semester on January 20.
- Classes will be taught in-person.
To minimize the spread of the virus via Boston University functions, we will temporarily suspend the service of food and beverages at all events on campus through February 18, except in our dining halls and those external events that are ticketed, such as events in Agganis Arena, where proof of vaccination is required. The suspension of catering services will be reviewed the week of February 14, and we will provide an update at that time.
Special Teaching and Learning Accommodations for Students and Faculty with COVID: through February 18, 2022.
Because of the possibility of increasing numbers of students and faculty members in isolation as a result of a positive COVID test, we are putting in place special protocols for the first month of the spring semester. We ask faculty, when possible, to make recorded lectures (via either lecture capture or Zoom recordings) available to students who cannot attend class because they are in isolation.
Faculty members who test positive for COVID but are well enough to teach are asked to contact their dean (or the dean’s designee) and will be allowed to move their class to remote learning via Zoom for the duration of their isolation period, normally five days.
Special Accommodations for Faculty and Staff with Caregiving Responsibilities: through February 18, 2022.
We acknowledge that the high transmission rate of the Omicron variant has created special concern for many, including parents of young children and caregivers for elderly or immune-compromised individuals in particular. We are likely to see disruptions in the lives of faculty and staff caregivers as daycare, eldercare, and schools are closed or compromised as a result of Omicron. Faculty members should work with their dean (or the dean’s designee) to make temporary arrangements to teach their classes remotely via Zoom until the disruption is resolved. We are asking staff supervisors to provide additional flexibility for hybrid work for staff, if possible, to help them handle these temporary disruptions.
If a hybrid work arrangement is not feasible, staff are eligible to use a variety of paid leave options starting with COVID paid absences. For a list of paid leave options if hybrid work is not feasible, you can access details here.
These protocols will be reassessed as we have additional data about the evolving situation. We hope to be able to return to our normal, fully in-person protocols after February 18, 2022.
Changes in Isolation and Quarantine Protocols
We are changing our protocols for isolation and quarantine to align with the new guidance from the state and the CDC. Accordingly, isolation for individuals who test positive is being reduced from 10 to 5 days if the individual has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving (no fever). Also, an individual who is a close contact to someone who has tested positive will not be required to officially quarantine if the individual is vaccinated and has received a booster shot or is not yet eligible for the booster. Masking for a full 10 days is a critical component of these newer guidelines.
The details of the new isolation and quarantine policies will be forthcoming and will be posted on Back2BU. All other public health protocols will remain as described in the December 13 memo from Dr. Judy Platt, Chief Health Officer.
Changes in PCR Testing Protocols
Because of Omicron, we are enhancing our testing by returning to the testing protocols we used in academic year 2020-2021. Beginning in mid-January we will test all undergraduate students two times per week. To increase the ease of testing we will transition to unobserved testing for all students as soon as practical.
It is almost two years since COVID-19 appeared and the global pandemic began. With our reliance on the science and with our flexibility and resilience, we have reestablished the Boston University community and continued our missions of education and research. We will continue to follow this approach as we begin the spring semester. I very much appreciate your efforts and perseverance as we work through the effects of the Omicron variant.
Robert A. Brown