Dear University of Maryland community,
It is exactly three weeks until the start of the Fall 2020 semester, and I want to welcome you to the start of the academic year. For many reasons, it will be a semester like none before, but our core mission remains constant: We will deliver a world-class education from the best faculty in the country.
For the past several months, we have worked diligently to develop and enhance plans for reopening our physical campus this fall. Hundreds of faculty, staff and students are collaborating in work-groups and teams to create an academically-rich environment for the fall semester. Over 600 grants have been awarded to innovative approaches to online and blended learning. We have also worked to create a physically distant, socially-rich environment, including the resumption of activities in the Stamp Student Union, recreation and wellness programming, and a de-densified on-campus residential experience.
We have developed extensive health and safety measures, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of campus facilities, conducted campus-wide testing to measure baseline COVID-19 infection rates, and launched efforts to monitor wastewater and air quality for the virus.
A Change to the Fall Schedule
As we continue our comprehensive efforts, we recognize that some aspects of virus prevention remain beyond our control. Despite aggressive and consistent efforts from state and county leadership, the prevalence of COVID-19 in the state of Maryland and in Prince George’s County remains higher than we had hoped for our fall return. The most recent 7-day positivity rate in the county is 5.40 percent, the highest in the state.
I am therefore announcing today that the University of Maryland will begin the semester as scheduled on August 31 but will delay undergraduate in-person instruction until September 14. Undergraduate instruction will be delivered online for the first two weeks. All graduate-level instruction and approved research activities will proceed as planned.
I know this two-week delay is disappointing, but it will permit us to phase in the resumption of on-campus activities and allow us to implement campus-wide virus testing, as outlined below. Analysis of test results, in close cooperation with state and county health officials, will allow us to assess county and campus positivity rates, availability and need for isolation and quarantine spaces, and other key health factors as campus activity resumes. We will not hesitate to pivot to more stringent measures if dictated by these initial assessments, and health conditions within our state, county or campus.
It is our fervent hope and expectation that we will resume in-person and blended instruction on September 14. At the same time, the health of our university community and slowing the spread of COVID-19 must remain our continuing and unwavering priorities.
Impacts to Housing and Dining
For students planning to live in on-campus residence halls, please consult move-in information already announced by Resident Life. Should students have specific questions about move-in please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Further, to give students and their families additional time to decide on the best choice for this semester, the deadline for confirming housing in on-campus residence halls has been extended to Wednesday, August 12 at 12 noon. Residence hall move-in will proceed as scheduled and we are currently projecting occupancy of less than 45 percent. The Department of Resident Life will send specific information shortly.
For all students living both on and off campus, we ask that they stay in their residences as a precautionary measure as much as possible through September 14. This will help us reduce interactions during this critical assessment phase of our reopening plan. During our two-week online period, all on-campus dining will be grab-and-go to minimize indoor interactions while dining, where wearing a mask is not possible.
I know many of our students want to know if they should come to campus or not. Unfortunately, that is a question I cannot answer. This is a complex choice and what is right for one student may not be for another. Instead, I urge every student to have a thoughtful conversation with their families and loved ones and decide what is right for them. Regardless if students take up residence this fall or not, we are here to provide a high-quality educational experience.
Additional Safety Measures
Mandatory COVID-19 Testing
The University System of Maryland recently issued guidance that all students, faculty and staff will be required to take a COVID-19 test prior to the start of the semester. As a result, please arrange for a test before returning to campus. Click here to find information about testing sites in your area. If you test negative for COVID-19, you must provide the university with confirmation of the result. If you test positive, you will be required to stay at home, follow CDC guidance and be cleared by your healthcare provider before coming to campus. Students will also be required to be tested after arriving on campus.
The university is offering free campus testing during the weeks of August 17, August 24 and August 31 for all community members. You will be asked to remain home or in your on-campus residence and self-monitor for virus symptoms until you receive a negative test result. Anyone who tests positive will be required to self-isolate at home or in your on-campus residence for 14 days, per CDC guidelines. Please click here to register for this on-campus testing. Additional details on how to upload your test results prior to coming to campus and on the campus testing will be provided by the University Health Center shortly.
Testing everyone who is physically present on our campus is critical to our understanding of the prevalence of the coronavirus in our community. We fully expect a number of individuals to test positive, and have developed appropriate procedures to initiate early contact identification, and protocols for isolation and quarantine so we can help protect against the further spread of the virus.
Changing our Behavior is Critical for Success
In order for us to all have the safest possible fall semester, it is imperative that everyone practice and enforce healthy behaviors. All members of our campus community will be required to follow these measures:
- Wear a face covering at all times indoors and outdoors when in the presence of others;
- Wash hands frequently and practice good personal hygiene;
- Practice physical distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart from others;
- Stay home if you feel sick, and report symptoms to the University Health Center and your personal doctor;
- Monitor your symptoms on a daily basis and submit them into the online reporting system located at return.umd.edu.
Our ability to resume in-person undergraduate classes will be dependent, in part, on our community’s adoption of these 4 Maryland healthy behaviors during the first two weeks of virtual instruction.
In addition, the Prince George’s County Executive is using authority granted by the Governor’s Executive Order to limit the size of house parties or gatherings. The county has the authority to charge anyone who hosts or attends a large party or gathering with a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both. For most houses in the College Park area, this means no parties or gatherings with more than 10-20 students. Click here to review the latest restrictions outlined in the executive order.
We are working with the businesses in the City of College Park to ensure these measures are implemented in local restaurants, bars, and rental housing units. All health and safety measures must be followed by students both on and off campus, per our Student Code of Conduct. Sanctions for non-compliance include, but are not limited to, loss of privileges to attend campus events, housing dismissal, removal from all on-campus activities including in-person classes, and dismissal from the University. We are serious about enforcing our Student Code of Conduct because one individual’s behavior can mean the difference between life and death.
Faculty and staff members not in compliance will be subject to employee progressive discipline measures.
COVID-19 Training and Pledge
All students will be required to complete online COVID-19 training prior to the beginning of the fall semester. As part of this training, students will be required to sign an “I Am 4 Maryland” pledge, agreeing to practice all of the appropriate “4 Maryland” safety measures on and off campus. Information about the student training and pledge will be sent to students by the Division of Student Affairs.
As has been previously announced, all faculty and staff are required to complete online COVID-19 training and agree to a “Community Responsibility Pledge at return.umd.edu prior to working on campus. We expect every member of our community to comply with these health directives.
As we implement these numerous safety measures, we look to every member of our community to promote and adopt healthy behaviors as part of our “4 Maryland” commitment. The University is doing everything we can to create a healthy environment for faculty, staff and students but our success will rest on the active participation of every one of you. If one person does not comply with requirements, it jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.
Our complete reopening plan, including health measures, can be found at umd.edu/4Maryland. The reopening plan can also be downloaded as a digital brochure (digital brochure text only). These materials will be updated regularly as conditions in our state, county and university evolve. I encourage you to visit the site frequently to stay up to date. There is a feedback form available on the 4 Maryland site for questions and comments regarding any part of our reopening plan.
We appreciate your patience during these extraordinary times. Working together, we can prevent the spread of the coronavirus for everyone at the University of Maryland and our surrounding community. Let’s care for one another.