From boosters to testing: What you need to know as the semester starts up

| Managing Editor
An orange cardboard box sits on a brown wooden surface next to several swabs and test tubes in white packaging

A kit containing two COVID-19 Antigen tests is unpacked. These kits were sent to all Washington University students for the purpose of entry testing. (Photo by Ted Moskal | Student Life)

From a more detailed explanation of Washington University’s lack of a booster requirement to an overview of the services available on campus during the first two weeks of class, here are answers to some of the most important questions facing the university community as the semester gets underway.

Why isn’t Washington University requiring booster shots, and could the shots be required in the future?

The University currently “strongly encourages” all community members who are eligible to get a booster shot, but has stopped short of adopting a direct requirement like many other peer institutions have done. The reasoning for this decision is detailed in the University’s Spring 2022 FAQ page, which reads, “At this time, we are relying on the members of our community to take personal responsibility for taking this step and do not feel that we need to have a mandate at this time.” 

At a Zoom town hall Wednesday afternoon, the executive director of the Habif Health and Wellness Center, Cheri LeBlanc, said eligible individuals should certainly get the booster. Yet she added that mandating the shot for the community was not as clear of a decision as when the University had mandated the initial COVID-19 shots last spring. “The incremental decrease in transmission on campus if the campus was mandated to boost is not nearly as potent as it was in the decrease in being immunized in the first place,” LeBlanc said, explaining that the University expected 70% to 75% of people to get the booster given a strong recommendation as opposed to 95% under a mandate. “When we looked at recommendations for the safety of our community, it was felt that the grounds for mandating the booster are weaker and are not outweighed by the need to respect individual and physical autonomy in this instance.”

In an effort to encourage students to get vaccinated, the University will host booster clinics at the Athletic Complex, starting Jan. 31, which will be available to all students, faculty and staff. Administrators also indicated that a booster mandate could potentially be adopted in the future, depending on how the semester progresses. 

 

What services will be available on campus during this two week period?

Most of the campus services that the University offers will still be scaled back, but still available for the first two weeks of the semester. 

Olin Library will continue its winter break hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays during this period. Starting Jan. 18, the public desktop computers and some study rooms are available to all visitors. The shortened hours will continue at least through Jan. 29, at which point the University expects to return to previously announced spring hours.

The Sumers Recreation Center will also be open with limited hours during the first two weeks. On weekdays, students can access the facility 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., 11 am. to 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. On weekends, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The South 40 Fitness Center will be closed during these two weeks, but will reopen when in-person classes resume Jan. 29. Club sports will also not take place during the first two weeks, but are scheduled to resume Jan. 31. 

Dining options at the University will mostly be centered around the Bear’s Den and the Village during this two week period. The BD grill will be open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, while the Village grill will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Other options at these locations will be available at relatively similar hours to their normal operations. However, the DUC will be less active during this period, with Ibby’s and Café Bergson as the only available options. 

 

What accommodations will be made for students who need to attend class virtually?

Because the pandemic may prevent more students from attending class in-person, faculty are required to accommodate these students in different ways, depending on course format. Last fall’s policy that lecture classes must be recorded and made available to students will continue. However, for non-lecture courses such as labs, studios and discussion seminars, accommodations are more of a gray area. In a statement to Student Life, Vice Provost for Educational Initiatives Jen Smith wrote that professors will be required “to accommodate absences in ways that do not penalize students and enable them to accomplish course learning goals for the classes they miss.” However, professors are not required to provide a synchronous virtual option for participation. Unless students fail their self-screening, or are asked by the University to isolate or quarantine, they are expected to attend class in-person.

 

Will there be any changes to this semester’s schedule along the lines of last spring, when the University canceled spring break and replaced it with wellness days?

Other than the two weeks of virtual classes, this semester will be structured normally. Spring break is still on for the second week in March, and there are no scheduled wellness days. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Anna Gonzalez told Student Life that the University does “not have any reason to expect that we will need to extend remote instruction,” so virtual instruction will almost certainly be capped at two weeks. According to SU President Ranen Miao, Campus Life and the Social Programming Board still plan on hosting WILD, Trending Topics and other campus-wide events, barring “major COVID developments.” 

 

Will academic deadlines and policies look any different this spring?

One major deadline adjustment is the add/drop deadline, which has been pushed back from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. in order to allow students to experience their classes in-person before making final decisions about which ones to take. New policies mandating accommodations for students who miss class due to religious holidays and barring professors from making major assignments due the day after breaks will also take effect this semester. 

 

What will WashU’s testing plan look like? Will mandatory surveillance testing ever be brought back?

Washington University will require all students to complete pre-arrival testing before returning to campus, using a free kit scheduled to arrive by mail at students’ residences between Jan. 17 and 21. Students who do not live in St. Louis are required to complete their tests and upload the results no more than 48 hours before their return to campus. Students who live in St. Louis should complete their tests between Jan. 28 and 30.

After this round of entry testing, the University plans to return to its previous plan of providing free diagnostic testing for students, faculty and staff. Community members who have medical or religious exemptions to vaccination will be required to undergo regular surveillance testing, but the University does not plan to mandate surveillance testing for anyone who is vaccinated. 

 

What will quarantine and isolation requirements look like this semester?

Students who have not been vaccinated or are vaccinated and eligible but not yet boosted will be required to quarantine for five days if they are exposed to someone who tests positive, while boosted students will not have to quarantine in University housing for five days if they are exposed. Post-exposure tests on day five will be required for students who live in double rooms, LeBlanc said in the webinar Wednesday. Students on campus who test positive for the virus will have to isolate for at least seven days, two more than the CDC guidelines, which recommend five days of isolation. “Our physicians were pretty clear that they were not as comfortable with having our folks go back to double rooms and be back in dining halls just five days after they had been diagnosed with COVID,” LeBlanc said.

 

What does WashU’s capacity look like for students who need to isolate and quarantine?

According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Anna Gonzalez, the University has doubled its capacity for quarantine and isolation housing. Gonzalez said that the University had never experienced a shortage of quarantine or isolation housing in the past, but cited an “abundance of caution” in making this decision. 

 

Annabel Shen contributed reporting for this story

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