Taking Stock: NYU Community Vaccination Rates, the Delta Variant, and the Opening of Academic Year 2021-22
DATE: August 19, 2021
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: Andrew Hamilton, President
Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, MD, MPA, Exec. Lead, COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team
Achieving High Vaccination Rates in the NYU Community
For the wider return to campus that takes place this fall, high rates of vaccination are the surest path to safeguarding the health of the NYU community. That was why we set the requirement in place for all members of the NYU community to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and to upload proof. In the face of the pandemic, no action will have a more important or beneficial impact on one’s own health and the health of the community than vaccination.
We are pleased to report that, with some 3 weeks to go before the start of classes, over 93% of US-based students and full-time employees have already received all doses in an FDA-authorized or WHO-listed vaccine schedule.
The vaccination rate among international students is lower — about 72%, primarily because of lack of access to the FDA-authorized and WHO-listed vaccines NYU is requiring. We are ramping back up our vaccination program on the first floor of Bobst Library this week so that those students can make appointments to be vaccinated upon arrival in New York if they are unable to get vaccinated prior.
In short, even though the rates of vaccination we have already reached are an accomplishment, we continue to press for achieving higher rates, and to make plans to do so. And those who start the year without being fully vaccinated (e.g: those who have not yet received their second dose) will be tested weekly and subject to a number of restrictions until they are fully vaccinated.
In addition, we will, of course, continue to monitor guidance from public health authorities on matters such as vaccine boosters, and provide direction to the University in turn.
The Emergence of the Delta Variant, and a Multi-Tiered Response
If the COVID-19 virus has taught us any lessons over the past year and a half, they are the lessons of unpredictability, humility, nimbleness and adaptability. Just a few months ago, as case rates were declining, the vaccination rates we have now achieved — significantly higher than those seen nationally or even regionally — might have portended a start of academic year 2021-2022 that, while cautious, looked considerably more like 2019 than fall 2020. No doubt all of us hoped for the moment when masking would be over, when we could gather in person with fewer restrictions and less worry.
Unfortunately, we are not there yet. As with so many aspects of COVID-19, we're confronting yet another curve ball: the Delta variant. This variant is particularly concerning because it is more easily spread than previous strains of the virus and some data suggest the Delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons. We know that news of the Delta variant's spread and impact have made some in our community anxious — understandably.
The good news is that the three vaccines authorized for use in the US are highly effective in preventing severe illness from all known variants of COVID-19, and our community has a high rate of vaccination. The vast majority of the spread is among unvaccinated individuals, so our high rates of vaccination leave our community better situated than many others.
However, we will not rely on high rates of vaccination alone. The emergence of the Delta variant and the resulting surge in case counts require that we proceed with additional caution and circumspection, particularly at the start of the semester when not all members of our NYU community have had equitable access to vaccines. So, in addition to the University’s vaccine mandate, here are some of the other ways NYUers will “keep each other safe” this semester:
- We will continue to have a universal indoor mask requirement in place on campus (see below). Rigorous masking has proven to be an effective check on the spread of COVID-19, and, in combination with high rates of vaccination in the community, will be especially effective.
- We will again have Public Health Ambassadors to distribute masks and to reinforce the masking rules and a culture of conscientiously observing health rules.
- NYU will continue to have a testing program, including:
- Required weekly testing through Binx or NYU BioReference for students and employees who are not fully vaccinated (for example, because of an approved medical exemption)
- Indicated Testing for students and employees who are:
- Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
- Deemed to be a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19
- Anyone meeting criteria for indicated testing should complete the reporting form to notify the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team and is expected to test on campus or to use a testing center near their homes.
- Discretionary testing will be available for students and employees who were recently in a high transmission situation such as:
- out-of-state travel by bus, train, or plane
- large social or mass gatherings
- crowded indoor settings
- These students and employees may choose to pick up a Binx test kit and be tested (no more than once per week) or use a testing center near their homes.
We will continually monitor testing results, as well as city data, for any uptick that necessitates a change in campus protocol, or a need to further increase the level of testing.
- We will continue our program of contact tracing and testing for close contacts of anyone who does test positive.
- Just as with other private medical information, we notify people who need to follow additional health and safety protocols due to their exposure to a positive case but will not share the names of people who test positive; we will also assess NYU settings — for example, classroom, workplace, residence halls — for signs of transmission, and will promptly intervene, as we did last year, when circumstances warrant.
- Our ventilation systems are in line with CDC and OSHA recommendations. This includes increasing the circulation of outdoor air and establishing that all the filtering elements are proper and in good working order, among other steps.
- We are configuring classrooms (where masks will be required) to create 7-10 feet of space between whoever is lecturing and the class participants. With both lecturers and participants masked, the vaccination requirement for all NYUers, and the changes made to ventilation systems in place, the risk of COVID transmission will be significantly mitigated. Last year, we observed almost no transmission in classroom settings.
- We will continue to limit campus access for external visitors and require that any visitors be fully vaccinated.
- We have issued new guidelines on events, gatherings, and meetings.
In addition, NYU will continue to closely monitor guidance from the CDC and the FDA on booster shots. Additional details will be forthcoming.
We must all do our part to help keep each other safe — and that means, we will need to start the fall with a number of health and safety protocols in place that simultaneously enable us to create more in-person opportunities to interact and connect with one another while protecting the community, particularly those who were unable to be fully vaccinated.
The Start of the Coming Academic Year
As we prepare for the start of fall classes, our decision-making continues to be driven principally by the health and safety of NYU community members. We want to share with you the broad outlines of campus life, with more specific guidance to follow. Taking account of our high rates of community vaccination and the other safety protocols we are keeping or setting in place even as the pandemic continues, here are some of the broad parameters NYU will have in place at the start of the year, in addition to the existing requirements for vaccination and masking:
Academic and Administrative Settings
In-person instruction will proceed as planned, as will the research enterprise and the deliberate resumption of in-person administrative operations.
We will continue to restrict access to facilities and University-sponsored activities as a means to enhance the NYU community’s safety; as before, campus access will be contingent on using the Daily Screener and receiving a green “PASS,” based on compliance with vaccination protocols.
In all indoor settings, including classrooms, a mask or face covering must be worn at all times (except when alone in a private office, or when individuals are eating (additional information will be forthcoming soon on appropriate eating locations)). In the event of someone failing to abide by the mask rules, the individual should be asked to leave the setting, and a report be made to a school’s dean of students, to the Office of Student Conduct, or to a supervisor or manager, as appropriate.
The University expects all its community members to use common sense and to extend good will to one another, and for that small fraction who are not fully vaccinated to abide by the extra restrictions we will have in place for them. We will be following up with additional guidance for managers in the coming days.
Events and meetings
In-person events will be permitted within certain guidelines (details can be found here). However, we would ask community members to use common sense and consider whether planned or anticipated in-person events can be readily replaced with online alternatives or postponed until after we get the current year well underway and, we hope, the current surge starts to abate.
Visitors, Vendors, and Affiliates
The existing 2020-2021 visitor policy, which limits campus access, has been extended at least through the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester: visitors, vendors, and affiliates not essential to the University’s academic mission or core operations will not be allowed to enter University buildings or to participate in University-sponsored in-person activities (on- or off-campus) for the start of the semester. Essential visitors, vendors, and affiliates must be sponsored by an NYU community member and will be required to demonstrate proof of being fully vaccinated or have a valid medical or religious exemption (those with valid exemptions would be required to submit proof of a recent negative PCR test).
It will be the responsibility of all students to be familiar with the health and safety rules in place for academic year 2021-2022 and to observe them conscientiously. In addition, we want you to be familiar with the broad contours of student life on campus:
We have fully re-opened the student residence halls and set aside rooms for quarantining and isolation. Masks will be required when students are outside of their suite or apartment and in public areas of the residence hall (such as lounges, hallways, or lobbies). While guests from elsewhere in student housing are permitted, masking is also required of all occupants when there is a guest/visitor in a suite or room’s common space. Guests from outside of NYU Housing will not be permitted at the start of the semester. This policy will be re-assessed as public health conditions evolve.
Everyone involved will need to be masked, and each residential student may select only one person at a time to assist inside (provided they trade off the wristband that will be provided to identify the "helper"). Helpers must either be fully vaccinated or have a PCR test within 72 hours of move-in and receive a negative result.
We are still reviewing the recently released City guidance on eating establishments and its effects on NYU’s dining operations. We will follow up with students soon about whether we will continue the “grab-and-go” approach we had last year or will move forward with more traditional student dining.
Intercollegiate competition, intramural athletics, and club sports will resume. We expect to reopen our sports facilities to fully vaccinated individuals in a phased manner, beginning with students. Our plans will be guided by forthcoming direction from the City, and is subject to change.
Clubs and other student activities
In-person student activities can proceed if, and only if, they comply with the requirements for gatherings and events; however, as mentioned above, we encourage students to use good judgment when deciding to host in-person activities.
When we reconvened on campus in fall 2020, no one was vaccinated. Yet through rigorous adherence to a multi-layered approach to health and safety, the year passed without an outbreak at NYU, without having to abruptly change course, and with little to no evidence of classroom transmission. As we return for fall 2021, we start with high vaccination rates with highly effective vaccines, and still keep in place a number of the most important additional health and safety protocols that served us so well last year.
We will continue to be watchful; COVID-19 has taught humbling lessons to the over-confident. We will continue to be guided first and foremost by the safety of the community. We will continue to call upon everyone’s perseverance, forbearance, and community-mindedness to help get us started safely through vaccination and other health and safety requirements. And with these principles in place to guide us, we believe the cautious approach we are taking for the coming fall will permit us to move forward safely with the resumption of in-person classes and other, though not all, in-person campus activities.
We look forward to welcoming students, faculty, administrators, and staff to campus in a few weeks. The University will continue to be in touch with additional information about the beginning of the coming academic year.