More like normal, but with masks: What to know from the fall plan

, and | News Editors and Editor-in-Chief
Five people wearing white shirts, gray pants and maroon caps stand with landscaping tools on Mudd Field. Rolls of grass sit in the left foreground, ready to be placed on the exposed dirt on the right side.

Workers replace the grass on Mudd Field outside Bauer Hall, where a study tent sat last year. (Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life)

We have updated this story as of 11:07 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 2 with more information regarding dorm COVID guidelines, campus vaccination rates and quarantine/isolation housing. If you have more questions you would like us to answer, fill out this form or email [email protected]

Washington University will resume many of its regular in-person operations and activities for the fall semester with indoor masking and the daily self-screening tool still in place, Chancellor Andrew Martin and Provost Beverly Wendland announced in an email Friday.

The announcement ushers in the start of a school year that will look more like pre-pandemic college, with predominantly in-person classes and no plans for surveillance testing, but Martin and Wendland cautioned that it would not be “an entirely ‘normal’ start to the academic year.”

The fall plan comes less than 24 hours after The Washington Post first reported that an internal memo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be just as transmissible in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. In St. Louis, COVID-19 hospitalizations had a 30% increase in eight days and 92% of staffed hospital beds are filled.

Still, Martin and Wendland expressed optimism that the few restrictions still in place will not be permanent. “As expected, due to such factors as the delta variant of COVID-19 and regional vaccination rates, we will need to continue to implement, at least in part, some of our public health requirements such as masking and self-screening in order to protect our community,” they wrote. “We will adjust our policies as necessary and appropriate in the weeks and months ahead with the hope of removing restrictions when it is safe to do so.”

Here’s what we know about the fall semester: 

Will masks be required on campus?

Yes, indoors. Masks are required for all indoor gatherings on campus, regardless of vaccination statuses or number of people attending. Outdoors, especially for large events or in crowded spaces, masks “are encouraged but not required,” Martin and Wendland wrote. The University announced the indoor mask requirement earlier this week after both St. Louis County and City introduced mask mandates, though those mandates are facing legal and political challenges

What about distancing?

The University will not require physical distancing on campus, including in classrooms, but it is “strongly recommended” for unvaccinated individuals.

Will students be allowed to visit other dorms?

Yes. Unlike last year, when students only had swipe access to their own dorms, students will be allowed to visit friends in any dorm. They can also bring non-University guests to their dorms, as long as the guests fill out the visitor self-screening form prior to arrival and comply with public health guidelines.Students can be unmasked in their rooms or suites with the door closed as long as they are only with roommates, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Julie Flory said in an email to Student Life Saturday. “Students must remain masked while spending time in indoor residential spaces with individuals who are not their roommates,” she wrote.

Where will there be quarantine and isolation housing?

The University reserved a limited number of housing spaces in Millbrook Apartment Buildings 1 and 4 for quarantine and isolation housing as a “precaution.” Students living off campus who are required to quarantine or isolate will likely be permitted to do so in their own space. “Based on current guidelines and projections, we believe we have adequate space set aside for quarantine and isolation housing,” Flory wrote Saturday. “Should guidelines or projections change, we will develop plans for additional housing, but we do not believe that is necessary at the present time.”

[from June: Residential Life reassigns 150 students after WU admits ‘unexpectedly large’ freshman class]

What will happen if students miss class because of COVID-19?

While there is predominantly in-person instruction in the fall, missing class due to COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test will count as excused absences. Lecture-based courses will be recorded for students who miss class for COVID-related reasons. Students in discussion, lab or studio-based classes should check their course syllabi or ask their instructors about the protocol for missing class. 

Will the University require entry testing for vaccinated students?

No, entry testing will only be required for students who are unvaccinated due to an exemption or who did not have access to an approved vaccine prior to their campus arrival. As the University announced in the spring, vaccination against COVID-19 is required for all students, faculty, staff and trainees. Individuals must upload proof of vaccination, or proof of approved exemption, by August 30. The University will continue to provide COVID-19 testing free of charge to students, faculty and staff who develop symptoms, even mild ones like a headache or stuffy nose. 

The Washington University seal sits in front of stairs leading under an arch. A person walks up the right side of the stairs.

A person walks up the stairs underneath Brookings Hall. Washington University will require masks indoors this fall, but many other restrictions are no longer in place. (Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life)

What about surveillance testing? 

The University did not announce any surveillance testing plans. Last year, the University required students on campus be tested once every two weeks, but there is no indication a similar program will exist this year.

What percentage of the University has been vaccinated?

The University has not yet released vaccination rates, but Flory wrote Saturday that “fewer than 1% of the total student population has been approved for a medical or religious vaccine exemption” and “the vast majority of our students, faculty and staff have been compliant with our request to provide documentation.” Flory said the University was “actively following up” with students who had not yet uploaded their vaccination documentation to the Habif health portal.

What is this new contact tracing app the University is using?

Earlier this week, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people get tested after COVID-19 exposure, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The University is encouraging students, faculty, staff and trainees to use a new COVID-19 exposure notification system called MO/Notify, a smartphone tool that uses anonymized COVID-19 test results to alert users when they have had exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. According to the MO/Notify website, the tool is included in the iOS version 12.5 update for iPhones and is available on the Google Play Store. Washington University is the pilot institution for MO/Notify, so the tool will only track tests that are administered through the University. 

What will dining, the Athletic Complex and other campus facilities look like?

Most dining facilities will be “operating normally” with some adjustments made to accommodate physical distancing, and many will offer outdoor seating. The Rec will be open for students, faculty and staff, with masks required in most areas. 

What should we expect regarding big events like WILD?

The University has not made decisions yet regarding events like WILD, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Julie Flory told Student Life in an email Friday. “Current conditions make large events like this more difficult to facilitate, even though they are allowable under the fall Danforth Campus plan,” Flory wrote. “We will be working with Student Union to discuss large events like WILD when students return later in August and decisions will be announced in early September.”

What kinds of travel will the University allow?

University-sponsored domestic travel can resume without pandemic-era restrictions, but University-sponsored and -supported international travel remains suspended for undergraduates. The University suspended fall 2021 study abroad programs at the end of April.

Will visitors be allowed on campus?

Yes, but they must use a visitor-specific screening tool.

We have updated this story as of 11:07 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 2 with more information regarding dorm COVID guidelines, campus vaccination rates and quarantine/isolation housing. If you have more questions you would like us to answer, fill out the form below or email [email protected]

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