A Communication to Faculty on the Fall 2021 Semester
Date: August 24, 2021
To: NYU Faculty
From: Katherine Fleming, Provost
Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, Exec. Lead, NYU COVID Prevention & Response Team
We are writing to the faculty as a follow-up to the community-wide communication we sent out a few days ago to provide some additional detail and to address questions that are coming from members of the faculty.
This Fall’s Return to In-Person Teaching, and NYU’s Multi-Layered Approach to Safety
The faculty did heroic work last year and the spring of 2020 in fulfilling our educational commitment to students with remote technology. We will still rely on remote tools to support any short-term disruptions, and, as has been the case for many years now, we will continue to offer some courses online. However, the restart of in-person classes, historically at the core of our teaching-and-learning mission, is a positive and important step.
The University’s decision-making continues to be guided by the safety and health of the NYU community. As the recent communication indicated, we will again employ a multi-layered approach to safety, with each layer mitigating the likelihood of COVID-19 spread:
- A vaccination requirement for all, which has resulted in high rates of vaccination with highly effective vaccines.
- Required mask-wearing in classrooms for both faculty and students, and in all other NYU indoor settings.
- Multiple testing regimes: required weekly testing (for those who are not fully vaccinated, such as someone with a medical exemption), indicated testing (eg, for anyone reporting COVID-19 symptoms or high-risk exposure), and discretionary testing (eg, for those who recently were in a higher transmission setting such as following travel or a large gathering without masks).
- Contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
- Restrictions on building access.
- Strict rules regarding campus visitors.
- Conforming our air handling systems to recommended practices.
Last year using a multi-layered approach proved successful for NYU: no outbreaks, no shut-downs, substantially lower positivity rates than our surrounding community, and with little or no evidence of classroom transmission. And with these measures in place and taken together, we believe that 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.
Apropos of that, faculty are reminded that they may not unilaterally decide to convert a course listed as an in-person class to online or remote. Faculty are expected to hold any class designated as in-person at its scheduled time, in its designated location, and in person, as stipulated in the Faculty Handbook.
Webinar with Dr. Ciotoli
We recognize that many faculty members may have health and safety-related questions. We are hosting a webinar for adjunct faculty on August 25, 2021, and a webinar for full-time faculty on August 26, 2021.
Key Mitigation Strategies for the Classroom
The following prevention strategies implemented together can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in NYU settings, especially within the classroom:
- Given the emergence of the Delta variant, the University is extending its requirement that masks must be worn indoors at all times in all NYU buildings (with narrow exceptions, such as when an individual is alone in a private office, or when eating in a designated location). Masks must be worn in class by students and faculty, including while speaking and teaching.
- If a student in class refuses to comply with the masking rules:
- Faculty should first attempt to correct the behavior within the classroom through discussion with the student, as they would other student misbehavior.
- A faculty member may direct a student who refuses to comply with the mask rule to leave the classroom.
- In the event of recalcitrance or repeated violations of the masking policy, faculty can report the behavior to the school’s Dean of Students or the Office of Student Conduct.
Restrictions on Building Access for Non-Compliance with NYU’s Vaccination and Testing Requirements
The overwhelming majority — over 90% — of our community is vaccinated. Students who are non-compliant with NYU’s vaccination requirement are not permitted in any NYU building, which means they are not permitted to participate in any in-person classes or other in-person university-sponsored activities. Like last year, building access will be managed through the use of the Daily Screener. Only those students who are compliant with the vaccination requirement (and compliant with weekly testing, if required to participate) will be able to retrieve the daily screener green pass for entry to buildings. Students who are not compliant with NYU’s vaccine mandate will be de-enrolled from any in-person classes.
- Because almost everyone will be vaccinated and everyone should be wearing a mask, students will not be expected to maintain physical distancing between each other while in classroom settings. However, where possible, students should sit in the same seats in each class throughout the semester. If students work with partners or in groups, try to minimize the number of rotations per class.
- Every lecture-based classroom will include a “teaching zone” or “instructor zone” of at least seven feet at the front of the classroom (from the front wall to the first row of student seating). Faculty in seminar rooms in which the seating is not fixed may, if spacing permits, choose to rearrange the furniture to allow for an instructor zone, or may choose to sit with the class.
Encourage students who don’t feel well to stay home
- Symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to those of other respiratory infections; testing is often the only way to determine the presence of COVID-19 and the need for prompt isolation. If a student reports illness, tell them not to come to class and to report their symptoms to the NYU COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team. Staying home while sick prevents the spread of infections to other people and reduces the likelihood of additional absences or a class disruption. Faculty can reinforce that absences due to illness or COVID-19 will not have any negative academic impact.
- Reducing barriers for students to stay home while not feeling well is essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19. Here is a list of strategies that the Provost’s Office is recommending to support students who temporarily cannot participate in in-person classes due to illness or isolation/quarantine.
- Should a student need to stay home due to feeling ill, faculty are not permitted to ask if the absence is COVID-19 related or ask for documentation of a healthcare visit or “doctor’s note” to excuse the absence.
Symptoms, Cases, and Contact Tracing in the Classroom
While the overwhelming majority of our community is vaccinated, and the overwhelming majority of new COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated, data suggest infections among the vaccinated (a breakthrough infection) are not common, but they happen. The NYU COVID-19 Prevention and Response Team (CPRT) has an organized process in place to manage cases in classes. This process has worked effectively throughout the pandemic and is guided by several core principles:
Privacy of Health Information
Privacy laws prohibit disclosures of private health information, including test results, vaccination status, and quarantine/isolation status. As was the case last year, the NYU COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team cannot share students’ private health information with faculty, and faculty are not permitted to request it directly from students. Likewise, CPRT will not disclose any private health information about faculty who report symptoms, test positive, or are otherwise instructed to quarantine/isolate. Confidentiality is essential when the CPRT is conducting its interviews and trying to identify if and where COVID-19 infection may have spread.
Evidence on COVID-19 Transmission & Risk-Based Notifications
- It’s important to know that — because of our multiple safety requirements including vaccinations, masks, testing, etc. — most people who are in contact with individuals with COVID-19 in an NYU setting are not at increased risk for COVID-19 infection due to NYU’s multi-layered health and safety plan. Therefore, most NYU students and employees who have been in recent contact with another NYU student or employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to follow any additional safety protocols (e.g., quarantine). Routine classroom-wide notifications of positive cases have limited public health value and are not supported by NYU. Faculty or schools that become aware of a case are not permitted to notify their classes, schools, or anyone else about their knowledge of a case.
- After learning of an individual who tests positive for COVID-19, the CPRT: (1) uses multiple methods to determine who meets specific public health criteria for being at greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19; (2) will notify those at-risk individuals; (3) provide those individuals with instructions to follow specific health and safety protocols that are necessary to take care of themselves and prevent further spread of COVID-19 infection to more people.
Identification of Trends
The CPRT closely monitors data for trends and clusters. If a significant concern is identified in a class, appropriate faculty and administrators will receive additional communications from CPRT including an action plan. Being in a class with a positive person does not automatically make everyone else in the class a close contact, and does not require that class must turn to remote instruction. Instructors should not decide on their own the teaching modality for a class. If public health considerations indicate that there’s a need for a class to stop meeting in person, CPRT will reach out to appropriate faculty and administrators.
If you develop symptoms, test positive, or are concerned about an exposure:
- Stay home — don’t go to your office, don’t go to class.
- Follow your school or department’s normal protocol for instructors who are ill and cannot hold class. You are not required to disclose to your school or class the reason for your absence.
- Complete the reporting form to notify the NYU COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team.
- If you need medical care, consult your personal healthcare provider.
We have very high rates of vaccination among faculty (over 95% among full-time faculty and nearly 90% among adjunct faculty). We also have high rates of vaccination among students (as of today: over 94% among US students, and about 75% among international students, with the majority of the rest having already made appointments to be vaccinated upon arrival). This is higher than many other institutions, and considerably higher than the overall city vaccination rate. Currently, medical and religious exemptions represent less than 1% of the total. By the beginning of the semester, we expect our student numbers to be at or near 100%, since no student who is non-compliant with NYU’s vaccine mandate will be allowed on campus.
However, we will continue to push for still higher numbers among all constituencies. If you have not complied with NYU’s vaccination requirement (which applies to both full-time and adjunct faculty), it is vital that you do so immediately — get vaccinated and upload your proof of vaccination.
To the overwhelming majority of you who have already been vaccinated: thank you. You have made yourself and the entire NYU community safer.
We know that for some faculty, the resumption of in-person classes will be accompanied by anxiety. We understand. The combination of high vaccination rates; required mask-wearing, testing, tracing, and other COVID-19 protocols; and the classroom having shown itself not to be a source of transmission provides a strategy grounded in health and safety for restarting in-person classes.
We wish you all the best for the coming year. Good luck with your teaching and scholarship.