Dear University community,
I write today to share plans for the spring semester. COVID-19 continues to impact every aspect of our personal, professional, and academic lives. Every day brings new information about the coronavirus: how it spreads, forthcoming vaccines, positivity rates, its impact on our mental health, and quarantine/isolation guidelines. And as of this writing, the number of cases within our state and our country continues to rise sharply as news reports offer hope that a vaccine is on the horizon.
It is within this context that we must make decisions about the spring academic calendar. Our goal is to provide the best possible academic and co-curricular experience for every member of our campus community, prioritizing health and safety. And as we have from the onset of this pandemic, our plans and decisions will be based on information and guidance from national, state, county and campus health officials. If there is a lesson that we have learned throughout this pandemic, it is this: We must remain nimble and flexible and expect change. If new information comes to light, we will not hesitate to adapt our plans accordingly.
Spring Academic Calendar
The spring semester will look and feel much like the fall semester, with a hybrid teaching and learning environment. We expect about 25 percent of courses to be conducted in person and the remaining 75 percent online. We will begin our spring semester as planned on January 25, 2021. As we did in the fall, the first two weeks of undergraduate instruction, with few exceptions, will be conducted entirely online. This allows us to conduct testing and initially limit movement amidst our de-densified campus.
Spring Break -- March 14-21, 2021 -- will also proceed as planned. This was a most difficult decision. Giving students the opportunity to leave campus poses challenges in mitigating the spread of the virus. We also very acutely recognize the stress and strain 12 months of the pandemic will put upon our community. Maintaining our mental health is equally important as our physical health, and we are putting safety measures in place to allow for a mid-semester recess.
The two weeks of instruction immediately following Spring Break -- March 22-April 2, 2021 -- will also be conducted online. This will allow the University to conduct large-scale campus-wide testing prior to the resumption of in-person classes.
The spring semester will end as scheduled on May 11, 2021.
All of these plans should be considered provisional and will be subject to change depending on many factors, including national and state protocols, positivity rates on and around our campus, and our continued adherence to our 4 Maryland protocols.
Campus-wide COVID-19 Testing
As we did prior to the fall semester, all students, faculty and staff will be required to take a COVID-19 test -- and submit a negative result -- prior to returning to campus. Expectations for January testing for faculty and staff were communicated yesterday by Dr. Bodison. Further, students will be asked to sequester for the first two weeks of the semester and take another COVID-19 test before in-person instruction commences. These measures were implemented in the beginning of the fall semester and helped us begin the academic year with as few positive cases as possible.
The University Health Center will conduct a large-scale campus-wide testing event during the first week of the semester and thereafter increase the frequency of campus-wide testing throughout the spring semester. All students living on or near campus, and all faculty and staff coming to campus, will be required to take a COVID-19 test every two weeks. As a reminder, anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has knowingly been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 can be tested at the University Health Center at any time.
A 9-day large-scale campus-wide testing event is scheduled for the two weeks immediately following Spring Break, beginning March 22, 2021. All students, faculty and staff coming to campus will be required to participate in this testing event.
It is also important to note that we will continue to provide on-campus quarantine and isolation space for students who test positive and/or were a close contact. We will continue to adhere to CDC guidelines for protocols related to these quarantine periods. The University Health Center will distribute additional information, including dates of testing and registration information, in the new year.
Planning for a COVID-19 Vaccine
The University has formed a vaccine task force, led by the University Health Center’s Dr. Sacared Bodison and Dr. Spyridon Marinopoulos and composed of university administrators, students and county health officials, to prepare campus operations for the arrival, storage and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. It is important to note that this task force will not make decisions on who or when members of our community receive a vaccine; those decisions will be made by national and state health officials. The purpose of the task force is to operationalize those decisions on our campus.
Resident Life and Student Services
On-campus residence halls will once again operate at reduced density, and students will only be permitted to reside in single rooms. Returning students living in on-campus housing may move in by appointment between January 23 and February 8, 2021 (students moving in for the first time may arrive by appointment on January 21-22, 2021).
The University Health Center, Dining Services, Counseling Center, RecWell facilities including Eppley Recreation Center, Stamp Student Union and other campus offices will have a physical campus presence throughout the semester, commensurate with local health guidelines.
The spring semester presents an opportunity to build on the tremendous resolve we all demonstrated throughout this semester to continue the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. Wear your mask. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands frequently. And stay home if you feel sick. These actions not only help keep you healthy, they help keep us all healthy. Let’s keep up our vigilant work -- for each other, 4 Maryland.
Darryll J. Pines
President, University of Maryland