Decision-making Around Spring Break
TO: NYU Students
FROM: Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, MD, Exec. Lead, COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team and Associate Vice President for Student Health
DATE: October 26, 2020
I want to follow up on the communication from the President and the Provost about the spring semester, and to provide you with more detail about the decision-making that went into the recommendation regarding spring break.
Put simply, the potential for it to be unsafe is high, as many colleges and universities have recognized. Let me go through the reasons why:
Travel and Quarantine
One of the reasons that we have proposed to redistribute the spring recess days was to break up the nine-day block of time. That period — while definitely relaxing and stress-relieving — also presented an easy invitation to travel. And travel will mean bringing COVID-19, which is spiking in many parts of the US, back to the NYU community, potentially causing outbreaks here and in the broader NYC community.
Travel is a real problem now. There are 43 states on New York’s hotspot — or restricted — list, as well as all countries with a level 2 or 3 CDC Travel Advisory. That means anyone going to those locations will need to quarantine upon return.
Wide-scale quarantining is a significant logistical and personal challenge at the beginning of the semester, before the start of classes and when everyone has had time to prepare themselves. In the middle of a semester, it would be far more disruptive and difficult to manage, it would likely mean a second or third quarantine for many NYUers, and it would be best to avoid it.
Moreover, the process of traveling itself carries the risk of transmission, with the CDC noting that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” The possibility of COVID contagion is higher in the close confines of aircraft, trains, or buses over long distances and long times. This is one of the reasons that NYU Leadership has prohibited all university-sponsored international travel for employees and strictly limited domestic travel to only the most absolutely essential.
And all this highlights the inherent challenge of the proposal some made: to try to institute a “spring break with travel ban.” It would be almost impossible to successfully implement or monitor a “spring break travel ban,” and the consequences could be serious for our community’s well-being.
Increase in Gatherings
Spring break can be a time to visit family, friends, and colleagues, which may lead to a significant percent of the NYU community to simultaneously engage in social interactions with people they have not recently had contact with, thus potentially increasing their risk of COVID-19 exposure. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, was recently quoted as saying, "But what we're seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings." Even small, simple gatherings can create risk for the broader university community if many of them occur within the short time frame of spring break.
Spring Break Has Been Shown to Be Associated with Spread of COVID-19
NYU’s students have, by and large, been fantastic, and we’re proud of you. The low, stable positivity rates that we have consistently seen at NYU are attributable, in large part, to the conscientiousness shown by students.
But we cannot overlook the fact that events during the fall semester have repeatedly demonstrated that the kind of social activities normally associated with spring break have been responsible for COVID outbreaks that have led to university closures (Notre Dame, FSU, and the University of Michigan, to name but a few).
Conclusion: Thinking about Your Well-Being
We are sympathetic to the arguments many students have made about their well-being, and particularly their mental well-being, without the relief valve of spring break. And we are attentive to the point that many students have made about needing the spring break to look for summer jobs or attend to matters that are hard to fit in during a week filled with classes. We don’t underestimate the hardship of it, which comes on top of many other burdens you have had to take on this year.
But it comes down to this: the week-long spring break carries too much risk to the health of the people in the NYU community and the neighborhoods around us, and too much likelihood of disruption.
So we will be working with the Provost's Office and the Deans’ Offices to urge faculty to refrain from assigning work on the semester’s three-day weekend. And we are committed to finding ways to improve and expand stress relief and self-care, to try to inject some fun into the semester, and to make the most of the break days we propose to build into the semester.