An Update on COVID-19 Planning at Rutgers
May 13, 2020
Members of the Rutgers Community:
I hope this message finds you in good health and in good spirits. I am writing today to provide you with an update on the University’s preparations for a gradual return to campus and to inform you about our developing plans for fall instruction.
We are all focused on reimagining our university as we navigate the many unknowns of our current situation. The complexity of our federal and state responses to the virus, the uncertain progression of the pandemic, and the unpredictable pace of developing vaccines and therapeutics mean that we cannot yet make definitive statements about specific plans.
As we look to the fall semester, our planning teams are working closely with incoming president Jonathan Holloway in developing plans that prioritize community health and safety, that ensure robust academic offerings, and that further our essential mission of teaching, research, and service. Our overarching goal is that Rutgers operates with the excellence of the academic experience you rightly expect.
A preliminary plan for returning to campus will be shared with our community in the coming weeks. That plan will outline the safety requirements and the process for preparing our facilities and our employees to return to work safely.
All of our plans for returning to our campuses rely on social distancing, augmented by our growing capacity to test for the presence of the virus and for previous virus exposure, and conducting contact tracing when new positive cases are identified. We are fortunate that some of the most important advances in COVID-19 testing in the country have occurred here at Rutgers, and we are well-positioned to facilitate robust testing, tracking, and tracing.
At RBHS, Rutgers Health has already begun to expand in-person ambulatory service delivery. As in most areas of the country, elective procedures were suspended at the outset of the outbreak to free up all available resources for COVID-19 patients. As inpatient capacity becomes available again, non-urgent procedures are now being re-scheduled. Outpatient activity will increase with social distancing, and continuing travel restrictions will necessitate reliance on telemedicine as a major means of delivering care.
Since the pandemic outbreak, our research enterprise has been limited to only the most critical activities. In consultation with our faculty, we have developed plans to reopen laboratory research activities in a staged manner, allowing new safety protocols for social distancing, environmental hygiene, and cleaning. The goal for this plan is to have a majority of on-campus research activity functioning by August 1. We will share these plans with the broader research community within the next two weeks.
Research activity is closely linked with the training of graduate students, and a careful analysis is in progress on methods that will enable timely completion for graduate students who rely upon campus resources.
Of utmost importance, a rigorous, thoughtful planning process involving the faculty and faculty leadership is under way for undergraduate education. Since the COVID-19 landscape is still fluid, a number of scenarios for the fall are being actively considered. These include:
- A traditional in-person opening to the academic year, with minimal adjustments;
- Beginning the fall in a hybrid state, where some activities can be held in-person, but where state or federal guidelines still limit gatherings and business operations;
- Beginning the fall remotely, while transitioning to a more traditional operating model during the term; and
- A full remote semester.
While our preference might envision Rutgers classes to be in-person and for our dorms to be occupied at the start of the fall semester, the most likely scenario at this point is a hybrid model of in-person and remote education. The degree to which we can operate fully in-person will depend on the course of the pandemic and on the federal and state requirements that remain in place to mitigate the virus.
Our planning process prioritizes student, faculty, and staff safety, and is focused on the creative uses of academic spaces to accommodate in-person instruction, the specific needs of certain disciplines such as music and the performing arts for campus infrastructure, and the need for models that allow for a combination of face-to-face, remote synchronous instruction and asynchronous remote engagement.
Please recognize that the final decisions regarding many of these issues can only be made as more information becomes available over the next 6 to 8 weeks. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us at home, in our communities, and at Rutgers, it is that we must be flexible and be prepared to adjust. In light of this necessity, we ask for your understanding and patience.
Students, please know that Rutgers will be prepared for whatever scenario comes, and that we will do everything we can as an institution to see you, in-person, in the fall.
I look forward to sharing more information in the next few weeks, and in the meantime, I wish you and your families good health.