June Update on COVID-19 Planning at Rutgers
June 9, 2020
Members of the Rutgers Community,
Today, planning for Rutgers’ full recovery from COVID-19 pales in significance as we react to and reflect on the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. In recent years, in our cities and on our campuses, we have been confronted time and again by despicable acts of violence and injustice directed against black Americans, acts rooted in a history of overt and systemic racism in our country.
Our chancellors have written eloquently to the community on this issue, and many of our faculty, staff, and students have been highly visible in peaceful demonstrations across the country. The strength of our community’s values and character has been made visible by the large, peaceful demonstrations in Newark, Camden, and New Brunswick. I want to thank members of the Rutgers community for their contributions to this critical dialogue. Rutgers has an important role to play in the coming months in creating sustained progress toward building a more just and equitable society.
I know that, for most of us, work- and school-life are in the background as we confront the state of our troubled nation. However, even in these difficult times of social unrest, I believe it is important to keep you updated about where Rutgers stands in the process of repopulating our campuses.
The COVID-19 Task Force, with input from hundreds of people around the University, has been working on a variety of ways to repopulate Rutgers as we move forward through the remaining months of this pandemic. President-designate Holloway, along with each of the four chancellors, continues to be an active participant in developing the blueprints for our recovery.
Rutgers faces a unique set of challenges, located as it is in the region with the highest level of infection in the world—meaning that even as the number of cases continues to decline in New Jersey, the residual level of cases remains much higher than almost anywhere else in the country. Further, we are conducting our planning in a rapidly changing public health environment, with the real possibility of a rebound in COVID infections and the uncertainty of evolving state orders and guidelines limiting face-to-face instruction constraining our actions. Because of these factors, the evaluation of how best to bring people safely back to our campuses over the coming weeks and months will remain a fluid process, with some decisions deferred until further information on these factors becomes available.
In the following sections are the actions and decisions made since my last communication, and the status of decisions that remain to be made.
Healthcare and clinical activities
My personal thanks go out to all those across the university who put their lives on the line to provide care to the thousands of patients in the facilities where Rutgers Health and our healthcare professionals serve. Because of State guidelines and the surge in demand for precious hospital resources, COVID-19 required that virtually all elective procedures and in-person ambulatory care cease during March and April. We are now moving forward to reopen elective and ambulatory practices of Rutgers Health. As of today, our ambulatory services are once again open, and will be ramped up quickly. Outpatient care will continue to increase as much as possible with social distancing. Telemedicine will continue to play a major role in outpatient activities. Furthermore, elective surgeries and procedures are once again being performed at a pace that will approach pre-crisis levels in the next few weeks.
On-campus research activities
A core part of our mission in serving the state and country is the research activity of our faculty, staff, and students. During the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of our research has been exemplified both locally and nationally by the impact of the Rutgers COVID-19 “saliva test.” We are moving aggressively to reopen all of our faculty research venues in a staged manner over the next eight weeks and are presently moving toward 50 percent capacity in our labs. As we move forward, we will announce procedures for all investigators and staff working in and around lab facilities to be screened before returning. This activity is being coordinated by our Office of Research and Economic Development and led by our chancellors and their deans. We aspire to be approaching 100% research capacity by the end of August.
Professional and graduate education
Graduate education will return to a combination of in-person and remote education in September. Much of graduate education depends on research activity, and we must do everything we can to help our graduate students achieve the timely completion of their studies. For this reason, graduate education will be prioritized for access to campus facilities wherever possible—again, in absolute adherence with state and federal guidelines, testing expectations, and strict plans for protective distancing.
Professional education will also plan to return to a combination of in-person and remote modes at the discretion of the chancellors. Professional students will likewise be given priority access to our campus facilities wherever feasible, and health sciences professional students will have access to training in our healthcare delivery sites.
Telecommuting and preparing campus buildings and spaces
Our current telecommuting policies, necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis, have been extended through June. For those who can work elsewhere in accordance with an approved personal telecommuting work-plan, we continue to encourage you to do so. Within the next week, we will issue an extensive document that provides comprehensive guidance on what will be required to ensure every Rutgers space and building has adequate protection and ample social distancing—including staffing rotations, traffic flow signage, sanitation, and face covering expectations. The process of preparing buildings and workspaces will be intensifying in July and August, with a goal of safely repopulating offices in September. The university is in the process of developing a testing and contact tracing program as a critical component of repopulating campuses.
We acknowledge and are sympathetic to the frustrations of our undergraduate students and their families as they seek clarity about arrangements for the fall semester. Because of the complexities created by adhering to protective distancing guidelines in our residence halls, dining facilities, and transportation system, undergraduate education remains the most difficult area of planning. We are still assessing the final status of undergraduate education on our campuses for the fall.
Instruction in some undergraduate disciplines must be delivered in-person: the arts, engineering design projects, and undergraduate clinical instruction are among the examples of disciplines that require access to the facilities that campus provides. Our current thinking will prioritize in-person instruction in areas like these while respecting state and federal health and safety guidelines concerning the density of students who can occupy the campus. Each chancellor is now working with his or her provost, deans, and faculty to clarify these issues for all students, and to identify disciplines requiring special consideration and their path toward in-person instruction.
While the continued wait for a firm decision regarding all undergraduate educational programs is frustrating, we also do not want to make a call prematurely that will limit our ability to move forward in the fall. We will make a final decision on the scope of in-person undergraduate education by the first week of July.
These last several months have been some of the most difficult and yet most inspiring in the university’s history. The flexibility, compassion, and understanding displayed by our students, faculty, and staff have been remarkable examples of what makes the Rutgers community so special. I want to thank you for all that you have done and let you know that we will keep you informed and updated as more decisions about our return to campus facilities and activities can be announced.
*Undergraduate education for the fall 2020 semester is addressed in Our Plans for Fall 2020