August 26, 2020
To: Members of the University Community
From: Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
I write today to share some important updates regarding the University’s plans for Autumn Quarter. Over the past few months, academic leaders, faculty, and staff from across the University have planned extensively for a return to campus that focuses on the health of our community, neighbors, and visitors while also delivering on our distinctive approach to education, research, and intellectual life.
As we continue to prepare for campus operations this Autumn, it is clear that measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are critical to our success. Some of these measures call for our community’s adherence to health and safety requirements, including mandates to wear face coverings, maintain social distancing, self-monitor for symptoms, increase hand and workplace hygiene, and stay home if individuals show COVID-19 symptoms or have close contact with someone with the disease. These requirements are laid out in the UChicago Health Pact and are part of the training and attestation that all people returning to campus will be required to complete.
As vital as these individual actions are, they must be combined with institutional measures to test, trace, isolate, and treat COVID-19 cases that may emerge. Based on input from numerous public health experts, these combined elements have been found to be the most effective in limiting the impact of COVID-19.
We also know that we cannot eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19. This is the unfortunate reality of a pandemic, and while the University promotes a culture of safety and is implementing protocols to lower certain risks, we will continue to assess the pandemic as it evolves to determine whether we need to change course. We are also closely monitoring the experiences of other universities – their challenges as well as successes in returning to campus.
Our University-wide plans, developed in close consultation with infectious disease specialists at UChicago Medicine and in accordance with federal, state, and local guidelines for higher education, are designed to reduce risks for all members of our community; to help us be prepared if and when cases appear; and to use the best available science and data to promote the health and safety of our campus and surrounding community.
Mandatory and Voluntary Testing – We previously announced that everyone living in University residence halls will be tested for COVID-19 upon their arrival to campus, followed by an initial quarantine or “stay at home” period of 10-14 days, depending on the location from which the individual is coming, in accordance with the City of Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order. In addition, students living on campus will have weekly, mandatory testing for COVID-19. We are also planning a voluntary testing program for others on campus including students, instructors, researchers and staff. This voluntary testing program, administered by the University of Chicago Medical Center, will ask a group of up to 5,000 volunteers to be tested frequently throughout the year, at no expense to them, in order to track asymptomatic infections on campus.
Any faculty member, academic appointee, postdoctoral researcher, or staff member who is experiencing symptoms or has been identified as a close contact of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 may call the UChicago Medicine COVID-19 triage hotline for screening and testing, at 773.702.2800. Students should call UChicago Student Wellness at 773.834.WELL.
Contact Tracing – The University has developed an Exposure Protocol for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or has a known or suspected exposure to the disease. According to the protocol, any University community member who has a confirmed case, symptoms, or exposure must promptly self-report at C19HealthReport@uchicago.edu. These initial reports are fielded by the University’s new Contact Tracing Team, which began operation this summer.
Contact tracers will coordinate directly with those who test positive for COVID-19 to help identify others who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and provide recommendations to limit further spread of the virus. As part of this coordination, the contact tracer will determine if the individual has been in close contact with other members of the University community. A close contact is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chicago Department of Public Health as any individual who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes during the contagious period.
The Contact Tracing Team will notify any known close contacts at the University of their potential exposure to COVID-19. Notifications will be limited to those who have had close contact with an infected person, and the contact tracers will take steps to protect the confidentiality of individuals’ health status. Contact tracers will also provide close contacts with public health recommendations to limit the spread of the virus (including information about quarantine requirements) and direct them to University resources for further support.
The University provides a weekly update on the number of reported COVID-19 cases and their close contacts on campus, along with additional information about COVID-19 exposures. Based on self-reports and contact tracing investigations to date, the University has had 18 known cases of COVID-19 at its Chicago campuses since June 7, resulting in 11 close contacts with others from the University. This is early data and we must remain extremely vigilant as Autumn Quarter approaches.
Isolation and Quarantine – Isolation refers to the period when someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 must stay away from people who are not infected; quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19, particularly through close contact or recent travel, away from others in case they develop COVID-19. Quarantine is needed because individuals with COVID-19 can be contagious before they show symptoms and some people with COVID-19 do not ever feel sick.
Public health guidelines call for anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to be isolated until at least 10 days have passed since symptoms appeared and at least 24 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement of other symptoms. For undergraduates living in University residence halls who test positive, the University has identified isolation spaces where they can recover if they have symptoms, and where there is a low risk of exposing others. A space being prepared for this potential use is the former Stony Island residence hall, which will not be used as a regular residence hall this Autumn. Students who have tested positive will stay in apartments at Stony Island or another identified isolation space during the isolation period. Students in isolation housing will have meals delivered to them, will have telehealth access to our team of on-campus physicians at UChicago Student Wellness, and will receive regular check-ins from our clinical staff.
If a student in a residence hall has symptoms of COVID-19 or had close contact with a known COVID-19 case but has not received a test result, they should quarantine in their own room while awaiting their test result, following the University’s Exposure Protocol. People living off campus who test positive or have close contact with a known COVID-19 case will be advised to stay in their home during the period of isolation or quarantine. Anyone who undergoes COVID-19 testing because of exposure or for symptoms (even minor symptoms) should self-isolate while awaiting results. Those who are tested as part of an asymptomatic testing program can continue usual daily activities according to the current COVID-19 risk reduction rules (using face coverings, social distancing, etc.). The University will soon share more information with students about quarantining in residence halls or in off-campus apartments, including requirements for people coming from states that are subject to the City of Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order. Students living off-campus also have access to care provided by UChicago Student Wellness.
Treatment – We are fortunate to have access to a superb team of clinicians at UChicago Medicine and UChicago Student Wellness. UChicago Medicine is performing leading-edge research on COVID-19, and our primary and specialty care clinicians collaborate closely with our epidemiological team to ensure confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 are managed according to the best scientific information available.
Any faculty member, academic appointee, postdoctoral researcher, or staff member who receives a positive result from a test conducted through the University testing program will be provided with options for follow-up care. Students who test positive will be notified by and can receive follow-up care from UChicago Student Wellness.
We also recognize the impact this pandemic may have on individuals’ overall sense of wellbeing. As a reminder, mental health clinicians at UChicago Student Wellness are available to support students impacted by these and other events and the Staff and Faculty Assistance Program (SFAP) offers support for University personnel.
In addition to the actions outlined above, we will also provide members of the University community who will be on campus with a package consisting of two UChicago-branded cloth face masks and a digital oral thermometer. We will send additional details about this in the near future.
With the implementation of these important individual and institutional actions, we can work together to help limit the impact that the disease has on our campus. We are grateful for the efforts of the entire University community as we all do our part to contribute to a healthy and successful Autumn Quarter.