I hope everyone has had a restful break and happy start to the new year. As you know, we are beginning the year with a rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant. We are watching community health conditions closely. Fortunately, the addition of the winter mini-term has already pushed back the start of classes to January 24. While a lot can change between now and then, we want to provide an update:
- Course modality. We intend to maintain scheduled face-to-face modality. One of the things we have learned in the past two years is that face-to-face classes enhance student learning and reduce the sense of isolation that often accompanies virtual classes. As was the case last semester, a change of modality for any reason must be approved by the appropriate dean.
- Masks in buildings. We expect everyone to protect others from the spread of COVID-19 and strongly recommend wearing masks in academic and administrative spaces.
- Available masks for employees. We have a variety of masks, including KN95 masks, for employees who want them. We will send information on how departments can request masks for faculty and staff who would like them.
- Vaccinations and boosters. We will partner with the Knox County Health Department to hold vaccination and booster events at the start of the semester for students, employees, and members of the community. We will also maintain vaccine and booster appointments and walk-in availability at the Student Health Center pharmacy.
- Testing. Testing remains available at the Student Health Center for students. Both students and employees can pick up take-home Everlywell test kits.
- COVID-19 support and guidance. We will maintain our COVID-19 support unit to provide recommendations and guidance for students, faculty, and staff who test positive or are exposed. Filling out the COVID-19 support form initiates this process.
We will communicate updates and more detailed information before students return to campus. On the positive side, early data suggests that the omicron strain causes less severe illness than previous strains of the virus, particularly for those who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster if eligible. Our data suggests that approximately 70 percent of our campus community is vaccinated. As always, we will update our guidance regarding masks and other protocols as conditions change.
In our community and around the country, we are witnessing a transition in the management of COVID-19—an illness, by all indications, that will be with us for many years to come. The CDC has reduced quarantine and isolation lengths to help people return to their daily activities more quickly. National experts have noted the benefits of focusing less on case counts when assessing the actual impact of COVID-19. Vaccination continues to be the key to preventing severe illness.
As we continue to evolve our understanding and management of COVID-19, we are also learning important lessons about the connections our students need to make on campus and how those connections support their overall well-being. You continue to rise to the challenge to support our students through uncertain times. I am grateful for your extraordinary efforts.