January 11, 2022
We are about to resume the academic year amid disruptions that accelerated in December and persist today. COVID-19 infection rates are surging, nationally and locally, with the Omicron variant spreading at rates we have not seen at any point during the pandemic. To make this in-person semester a success, it’s important that you prepare.
Start by getting boosted now if you haven’t already. Take a pre-arrival test and wait for those results before you come to campus -- this is a critical step in limiting the risk of an outbreak. Be sure to communicate accurate information about your arrival.
Once you are here, remember the behaviors you have learned from previous semesters: Keep to your testing schedules. Uphold the community compact. Maintain social distancing guidelines. Wear your face mask, especially noting the new mask guidelines, which were updated on January 10. During the in-person term ahead, all of these behaviors will be vitally important.
So will staying informed. By now we all know that one of the pandemic's many challenges is the need for us to manage so much information, particularly since conditions can prompt quick changes to directives and guidelines. There's no way to predict how conditions will change in the weeks ahead, but it is almost certain that they will. Now that the opening weeks are coming into sharper focus, I expect to have additional information soon; I will be writing to you with updates, possibly even before the end of this week.
In addition to my own messages, you receive regular updates from Dr. Spangler; please continue to read and follow them carefully, just as you do with messages you receive from Dean Boyd, your heads, and your deans. For answers to your questions about undergraduate policies, logistics, and deadlines, please see Yale College's FAQ page, which is updated regularly. So is the university’s COVID-19 site. Please check these sites often.
Beyond these preparations, I know that many of you want to know more about how the decisions are made that support the university’s core educational and research mission while minimizing severe illness and campus or community outbreaks.
Yale’s multi-disciplinary team of public health advisers make recommendations based on a wide range of information: rapidly emerging research; consultations with colleagues in other institutions, both nationally and internationally; monitoring of conditions in New Haven and Connecticut; close analysis of the data gathered within the university community, especially the information gathered by the testing and contact tracing programs. Often, the rate of change in certain data points is more important than even the numbers themselves. No single variable determines a decision.
The virus and its variants are new enough, and the Yale College community unique enough, that it is difficult to predict outcomes in advance. Peer institutions who began their semesters earlier this month have had large outbreaks as their undergraduates returned, and we can learn from their experiences. But it will take time to learn how the Omicron variant will behave in our community. That is why so many of our plans include the phrase “as public health conditions permit” – with each new step we take, we need time to wait and see what happens next before we can move on to another step.
Most of you are young, healthy, vaccinated and boosted; if you contract COVID-19, you will probably have a mild case. But that does not mean we can disregard the threat of COVID-19. Even those mild cases, in sufficient numbers, could overwhelm campus resources and the staff who support you. Also keep in mind the vulnerability of many members of the Yale College community: undergraduates with other medical conditions, children in the colleges who are too young to be vaccinated, as well as faculty and staff who are immunosuppressed. Just as important, the undergraduate student body is an active part of the larger New Haven community. All of these interconnections shape the public health policies, which are determined with everyone in mind.
Even with the challenges ahead, I am eager to welcome you back to campus and resume the academic year with you.
Marvin M. Chun
Dean of Yale College
Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology; Neuroscience; Cognitive Science