To: Members of the University Community
From: Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
In light of worsening pandemic implications regionally and across much of the country, the University is requiring expanded precautions around holiday travel and encouraging the use of work-from-home options wherever possible. While the remaining in-person classes for Autumn Quarter will proceed as planned, the situation in Chicago and Illinois calls for increased precautions.
The U.S. recently has seen record pandemic levels, with more than 130,000 new COVID-19 cases per day around the country and the statewide case positivity rate in Illinois in excess of 13%. In response to these metrics and other pandemic indicators that are cause for increased concern, the City of Chicago has issued expanded precautions effective November 16, including:
- All residents of Chicago are advised to stay at home, and to leave only to go to work or school, or for “essential needs such as seeking medical care, going to the grocery store or pharmacy, picking up food, or receiving deliveries.”
- Social gatherings are limited to 10 individuals (this guidance does not apply to school classes or businesses with specified capacity guidelines).
These city guidelines are consistent with strengthened public health recommendations from the State of Illinois, urging individuals to limit travel and gatherings and to work from home as much as possible.
The precautions we have implemented in campus classrooms, residence halls, laboratories, and workplaces have been essential in limiting the spread of the virus so far, and accordingly the schedule for the remaining in-person Autumn Quarter classes will proceed as planned. Since November 6 the number of cases among members of the campus community, including those who have not been coming to campus, has risen to 68 (excluding medical center personnel). Contact tracing efforts indicate that these cases are a result of the overall regional increases, rather than spread on campus. The cases in the last week have resulted in 53 close contacts (less than one close contact per case), reflecting general compliance with social distancing requirements in the University community.
The following University guidance is intended to limit spread of COVID-19 among people who live, work, take classes, or conduct research on campus:
Limit Travel and Gatherings
- The University discourages travel and any gatherings in the coming holiday period, especially travel involving areas with high rates of COVID-19. This can be difficult during a time when families traditionally come together. But as the State of Illinois emphasized on November 11, in the current situation, even small gatherings that mix households are potentially dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving in-person this year is with the people in your household. It is essential to continue wearing masks and upholding the UChicago Health Pact.
- Students who live off-campus should avoid coming back to campus between the Thanksgiving break and the start of Winter Quarter unless explicitly granted access to conduct a research, employment, or graduate study activity. Undergraduates living on campus have already been advised that they cannot return to their residence halls this quarter if they leave the Chicago area for Thanksgiving. Students who choose to stay in campus housing after Thanksgiving will continue to have access to their UChicago Dining meal plan and other services. All students in Chicago should follow the city’s latest order and avoid non-essential outings. Please refer to Michele Rasmussen’s recent message to students for additional guidance on holiday travel.
- Members of the University community should abide by the City of Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order, which was revised this week to identify states with varying levels of risk. Travel to states marked red requires a 14-day quarantine period upon returning to Chicago; travel to states marked orange requires either a quarantine period or a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before returning to Chicago. Please consult the full travel order for more details. Note, staff returning from travel who are required to quarantine by the travel order must either work from home or use vacation time if remote work is not an option.
Work from Home When Possible
- From now until at least January, University departments and offices should implement remote work for anyone who does not need to be on campus, in order to reduce campus density. In-person work should be limited to tasks that can only be completed on campus, including laboratory research and critical campus services. With the exception of laboratory research or other essential work, reasons of individual convenience or efficiency are not sufficient to justify work on campus during this period. We will communicate again before the start of Winter Quarter with an update on this guidance.
- The University’s current work-from-home approach is expected to stay in place at least through Winter Quarter; most offices should anticipate continuing work from home through that period.
- Non-essential visitors should not come to campus, effective immediately through at least January. Essential visitors are few, and include people supporting crisis situations; confidential discussions that cannot be conducted remotely; and high-level situations requiring an in-person meeting to advance a critical matter.
I have been greatly encouraged by the efforts the entire University community has made thus far to limit the spread of COVID-19 on our campus. Please visit the UChicago Forward website for more information, including how to schedule testing if you have symptoms, an online tool for checking symptoms, and how to report COVID-19 cases or exposure. Thank you in advance for observing these new important guidelines.