On August 10, I announced that the University would delay the resumption of the limited number of undergraduate in-person classes until September 14. This two-week delay allowed us to consider a wide variety of factors before commencing in-person instruction, including quarantine and isolation space, the number of unconfirmed self-reported positive cases, state and county positivity rates, compliance with 4 Maryland health directives, and staff capacity to manage positive cases.
Critically, it also allowed us to conduct campus-wide COVID-19 testing for faculty, staff and students and to assess the results before commencing in-person activities on campus.
Last week, we completed the third and final week of this campus-wide testing. Thanks to the tireless work of University Health Center staff and hundreds of volunteers, we conducted nearly 19,000 tests over 15 days, an amazing organizational feat. The UMD-administered tests resulted in 135 positive cases, a positivity rate of 0.7%.
We have received an additional 143 unconfirmed self-reported positive cases. Determining the positivity rate is not possible without having the corresponding number of unreported negative tests, but the university considers the total number of cases -- regardless of source -- in our decision-making process.
Based on a careful evaluation of a comprehensive list of factors, today I announce that we will proceed with our cautious, phased approach to the resumption of limited undergraduate in-person instruction on Monday, September 14 as planned. This represents approximately 15% of undergraduate classes offered this fall at the University of Maryland.
This represents a small but important step toward pursuing the full richness of a University experience that comes from an on-campus environment, where a community of scholars, students and staff unite for an academic, research, residential, social, and athletic experience. It is a step made possible by a team of hundreds of faculty, staff and students and a measured approach to this fall semester that included:
- Reducing the number of people on our campus, notably through significantly lower levels of occupancy in our residence halls, classrooms and laboratories.
- Preparing our facilities for use, including cleaning and disinfecting, posting signage of behavioral requirements, and reducing the occupancy of academic, research, and social spaces.
- Innovating the delivery of academic instruction, awarding hundreds of grants to faculty to create exciting new interactive ways of teaching and learning, and offering students the option to complete the fall semester fully online.
- Underscoring the importance of our collective behaviors, actively working with the surrounding community on effective monitoring of behaviors, and developing appropriately stringent consequences for non-compliance. The College Park City Council just passed a new ordinance that increases fines to $1,000 for anyone who violates local health guidelines.
There remain several areas of concern. A recent rise in the number of cases in our athletics program forced us to pause all training until all student-athletes are re-tested. A number of fraternity and sorority houses have reported cases. Our quarantine and isolation space availability is currently at 62% capacity, though many students will cycle out of isolation periods at week’s end. If we are to maintain in-person instruction and on-campus housing for our students, these areas must see improvement. We must remain vigilant in our actions.
Thus, we are proceeding gradually. Our dining halls remain closed for in-person dining, and we will continue to provide grab and go food options. Amenities at RecWell facilities and at Stamp Student Union will remain by appointment only. Our policy restricting guests in the residence halls will remain in effect. It is prudent to continue to limit activity until we learn more.
We will conduct a second round of campus-wide testing for faculty, staff and students during the weeks of September 14, 21 and 28. If you have not done so already, please register for your test on the COVID-19 testing information site. This testing is critical because it will help us compare the positivity rate with the testing just completed. If you are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 please call the HEAL line at the University Health Center.
Based on similar systems at other universities and requests from student leaders, we have developed a voluntary way for students, faculty, staff, and affiliates to provide the names and contact information for UMD community members with whom they frequently interact. This platform is designed to aid in early contact identification should someone test positive for COVID-19. Close contacts are individuals with whom you interact with regularly, in-person while working, studying, or in residence on campus or in the greater College Park community. This system is optional and not required. You can identify up to five close contacts on return.umd.edu.
We will continue to provide transparent data and information on COVID-19 Campus Dashboard, including weekly positivity rate, number of weekly and daily new cases, and daily availability of quarantine and isolation space. We added a new section to track the number of unconfirmed self-reported positive tests and a “Notes” section that will provide additional context and explanation for the data.
On behalf of the entire Terrapin community, I would like to thank each of you for your diligence and your patience during this time. Every one of you has played a critical, interconnected role in planning for this complicated Fall 2020 semester.
As a final reminder, when you are on or off-campus, please practice our 4 Maryland healthy behaviors
- Wear a mask or face covering over your nose and mouth at all times
- Wash your hands frequently
- Practice physical distancing, by maintaining 6 feet distance between you and others
- Monitor your symptoms on a daily basis
Let’s stay together (but six feet apart). Let’s stay dedicated and look out for one another. Let’s stay TerrapinSTRONG.
Darryll J. Pines
President, University of Maryland