Booster Requirement, COVID Case Counts, and the Steps We Announced This Week: Thinking Through How They All Connect
DATE: December 16, 2021
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: NYU President Andrew Hamilton
I have to admit: I wouldn’t have predicted the semester ending on quite this note. However, as one of this week's earlier emails noted, the one consistent trait of the pandemic has been its unpredictability.
Our community has had to take in a lot of news this week. On Tuesday, you received an email announcing a COVID-19 booster vaccination requirement before the start of Spring classes. Yesterday morning you received an email about exams being conducted remotely (where possible), among a number of precautionary steps the University is taking.
I want to describe how they are connected, what these developments do and don’t mean, and how we are looking ahead to the start of spring classes.
We Saw a Sharp Increase in New Cases as This Week Began
From the start of the semester until the beginning of November, we experienced steady declines in the number of new cases and in the case positivity rate. That seemed in line with our high vaccination rates and multi-layered strategy, and it was reassuring.
In early November, we started seeing some increases in case counts. They were modest, and given both the colder weather and the trend in NYC cases, they were not unanticipated. So, while they deserved careful observation, we did not feel they warranted a shift in our approach.
But as we looked at the data from the beginning of this week, we saw a sharp and conspicuous acceleration of new cases, which the most recent data confirm is continuing on the same trajectory.
This acceleration of new cases — which appears similar to what has occurred at other research universities in the area — is not a cause for alarm, but it is a cause for concern, and for taking prudent steps in response. Hence yesterday’s communication about final examinations and the other actions.
Are we now all-of-a-sudden unsafe if we have to take an in-person exam with classmates? No. The steps we outlined in yesterday’s communication are being pursued out of an abundance of caution. What we want is simply to emphasize practices that keep us safer (like mask-wearing) and reduce activities that are associated with transmission (like working out in the gym, eating with others, or socializing with masks off).
With respect to final exams: by changing as many as possible to remote, more students will be able to travel home earlier and take their exams from there, thereby also reducing density on campus. We think that will enhance safety, too. In addition, the availability of remote final exams enables quarantining students, of whom we are seeing greater numbers, to more smoothly complete their semester’s work.
The Booster Requirement
NYU has joined the growing list of colleges requiring a booster because we think it is the single most important step our community members can take to keep themselves and other NYUers safe in the spring semester. More specifically:
- There’s clear evidence of waning immunity from the original vaccinations people received. Our COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team believes waning immunity may well be contributing to higher case counts within the NYU community. Fully vaccinated people who are eligible for the booster but have not received it are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19; that’s changeable with this requirement.
- Boosters enhance our immune response and reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, and especially reduce the likelihood of getting seriously ill. The CDC now recommends that all individuals 18 years old and over should receive a booster vaccine, and public health authorities are strongly urging everyone eligible to get a booster as soon as possible as the best defense against the emerging variants of the coronavirus. Our community should be prepared, and should lead by example.
Increasing the immunity of our community is core to our goal of safely carrying on in-person activities and to resuming those activities we have yet to restart.
Looking Ahead to the Spring Semester
For all these reasons, you should not interpret the actions we’re taking at the end of the fall semester as a bad omen for the spring semester.
Rather, it’s the reverse: the booster requirement and the actions we are taking between now and the start of winter break are meant to safeguard in-person teaching and learning for the spring, to enable us to maintain the other in-person activities we had in the fall, and to progressively lift the restrictions on the activities we miss but in which we still cannot participate.
So, don’t be alarmed; do be careful and vigilant. Do wear a mask whenever possible; don’t socialize with your mask off. Do get your booster and upload the proof.
I recognize that the transition to remote examinations is a lot of work for both faculty and students, and stressful for both, particularly coming as suddenly as it did in this case. I want you to know that we understand this and appreciate the calm, steady, and professional way that everyone has coped with it.
Good luck with examinations and all of your end-of-semester endeavors. Enjoy your winter break, and get some much-deserved rest. We’re looking forward to being back together for spring semester and the start of in-person classes.