Dear students, faculty and staff,
We are eager to welcome you back for the spring semester. As shared in earlier messages, our goal is to begin the spring semester on campus in late January. Given continued consultation with public health officials and careful evaluation of our health protocols, we remain optimistic that it will be safe for students to return on time. The intent of this email is to inform you of factors that have influenced our current thinking and to share what we currently know about COVID-19 vaccine distribution for Wake Forest faculty, staff and students.
Spring Semester Schedule
Based on consultation with public health experts and the information available to us today, we hope to adhere to previously communicated start dates. We are closely monitoring the spread of the virus locally, in North Carolina, and around the world.
The availability of local medical resources is a key factor in our ability to start the semester on schedule, with students on campus, and to continue the semester as planned. In Forsyth County, medical facilities and resources remain available, with plans in place to adapt should we see a surge of infections.
To minimize the spread of COVID-19 between communities, we encourage students who travelled home during the break to avoid returning to Winston-Salem before the start of official on-site semester activities.
Students must meet pre-arrival requirements for the spring semester (see dates and requirements for undergraduates). Additionally, we plan to increase the number of random COVID-19 tests performed each week among the student population. Random testing will begin the first week of classes and continue throughout the semester. Asymptomatic testing, contact tracing and adherence to isolation and quarantine protocols were key to a successful fall semester, and we have worked over the break to further refine these efforts.
As has been the case since the start of the pandemic, we must acknowledge that our understanding of how and where the virus is spreading may evolve and require us to adapt.
COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
The rollout of the vaccine has brought hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. However, we must stay patient and diligent with our precautionary measures as the state’s distribution process may take several months.
When the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, as determined by the North Carolina rollout plan, Wake Forest will facilitate access to make it as easy as possible for all students, faculty and staff to receive the two required doses. There is no cost to receive the vaccine. The University is not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, but for your personal health and the health of our community, we do strongly encourage everyone to consider getting vaccinated when the vaccine is made available. The frequently-asked-questions page of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) website is an excellent resource when making this personal decision.
NCDHHS has begun the initial phases of COVID-19 vaccination and is working to overcome challenges in the process to speed up the distribution. NCDHHS recently updated its categories of prioritization for vaccines. Some education sector employees, including faculty and staff working on-site, will be included as “frontline essential workers” in two of the three groups in Phase 1b. Other employees are covered in groups based on age and/or medical conditions. At this time, college/university students are in Phase 3.
We are currently working to identify “frontline essential workers” as defined by NCDHHS — those likely at greatest risk for work-related exposure to COVID-19 because their duties must be performed onsite and involve being in close proximity (less than 6 feet) to the public or coworkers. NCDHHS and higher education industry associations have been given new information and updates on a frequent basis. Our understanding of the process, and therefore our distribution plan, is evolving rapidly. Senior administrators here, including me, along with our counterparts at our Medical Center, are in touch with NCDHHS officials on a regular basis to obtain the most current vaccine distribution information. We will continue to provide you with the best information we have available about when and how to receive the vaccine.
Students should pay particular attention to emails detailing pre-arrival requirements. Faculty and staff are invited to a Zoom update, focused primarily on public health and safety including vaccine planning, on Friday, Jan. 15, 4-5 p.m. A secure Zoom link will be sent to all faculty and staff by midweek.
Additionally, keep an eye out for information about changes to policies and practices for the spring semester based on lessons learned during the fall. It remains essential for all of us to continue to comply with public health guidelines like wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, and limiting gathering sizes to keep our community safe.
This spring promises to bring new opportunities for us, as individuals and as a community, and I’m looking forward to beginning the year with all of you. Thank you for your continued attention to the details it will take for our community to have a successful semester. Please stay healthy and safe.
Nathan O. Hatch