Risk/Return tradeoff

(Now updated w/ OSU’s letter at bottom.)

Dear University of Oregon community,

Thank you for your ongoing efforts to protect yourselves and others against COVID-19 as we prepare to return to campus for winter term 2022. Along with other public universities in Oregon, including Oregon State University and Portland State University, we will begin the winter term with in-person instruction.Last year, due to the incredible efforts of our faculty, staff, and administrators, the university was able to mount a high-quality, remote academic program that served the needs of our students. It also became clear that a significant number of students did not thrive and have encountered educational and emotional setbacks caused by the pandemic, setbacks that could be reduced by limiting the isolation associated with remote learning. These negative outcomes occurred most frequently among our most vulnerable students. Especially for these students, in-person education is clearly a better alternative for student success.

Our Approach
We recognize that news about the Omicron variant continues to create uncertainty and concern. We are also aware that universities across the country are taking different approaches to the start of the winter term. Our decision to start the term with in-person instruction is based on several factors:

  1. We have a high campus vaccination rate, with more than 95 percent of students, faculty, and staff currently vaccinated.
  2. Our high vaccination rate, along with our existing safety measures, allowed us to maintain a very low risk environment for COVID-19 throughout the fall term. 
  3. To date, there has been no documented case of classroom-based transmission of COVID-19 at the University of Oregon.
  4. We have built robust testing capacity on campus and continue to make tests readily available to the community.
  5. We are prepared to manage potential disruptions caused by faculty, staff, and student exposure and quarantine as outlined in the containment plan for classes and exposure guidance for students and employees and have policies and procedures in place in the event instructors are unable to teach in person due to illness or other reasons related to COVID-19.
  6. We are prepared to pivot and make necessary changes to our approach as warranted by public health conditions.

Booster Shot Requirement
During the winter term we will continue to follow our existing safety approaches, which have proven to be highly effective. Additionally, following Oregon Health Authority recommendations, and as part of comprehensive vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, we will require all students, faculty, and staff to receive a COVID-19 booster shot as soon as they are eligibleThe booster shot requirement must be met by January 31, or 30 days after you become eligible.

Proof of the booster shot must be uploaded following a similar process for the vaccination requirement. Specific information for providing proof will be shared with students and employees early in winter term. As with our existing vaccination requirements, the University of Oregon will continue to recognize both medical and non-medical exemptions to the booster shot requirement, consistent with state law.We continue to monitor public health conditions and are prepared to adapt as needed to protect the university and greater community, as guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Oregon Health Authority, and Lane County Public Health.Thank you again for your shared commitment to maintaining the health and safety of our campus and community. We look forward to welcoming you back next week.

Sincerely, Patrick Phillips
Provost and Senior Vice President

Oregon State’s version:

Dec. 28, 2021

Dear OSU Community Members,

We write to update you on Oregon State University’s plans for winter term instruction, research, Extension and outreach programming, and university operations.

At this time, in-person instruction and all other university activities and operations will resume on-site as scheduled on Jan. 3 at all OSU campuses and locations.

We make this decision while monitoring increased COVID-19 cases across the nation due to the Omicron variant. Our decision is informed by federal, state and local health authority guidance and is buoyed by positive signs that Omicron, while highly transmissible, may be resulting in milder symptoms and fewer cases of severe illness, hospitalization and death. 

The university’s decision is intentional: We seek to minimize disruption of student learning and experience and provide predictability for our faculty and university operations. We are mindful that classrooms, where students and faculty are vaccinated and wear face coverings, have not been a significant source of virus spread. We believe we can guard against a surge in COVID-19 cases due to a vaccination rate of more than 93% among OSU students and employees; requiring booster shots when a person is eligible as part of OSU’s vaccination program; the continuation of OSU’s emphasis on targeted COVID-19 testing; and our community’s adherence to numerous other public health measures.

Oregon State’s decision is in alignment with plans collaboratively announced today by all of Oregon’s public universities to maintain on-site teaching.

Your continued resilience and full participation in the battle against COVID-19 will be required for winter term classes to begin and operate successfully. This includes getting a booster shot as soon as possible and being tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus and other university locations.

We will undertake the following actions to support continuity in Oregon State’s teaching, activities and operations:

  • We strongly recommend that students and employees take and receive the results of a COVID-19 test before Jan 3. If you test positive over the holidays, remain in your home community and do not come to campus or other university locations until you are no longer symptomatic, and have passed the Oregon Health Authority’s isolation requirement.
  • Going forward, booster shots will be required as part of OSU’s vaccination program. In the days ahead, we will provide you more information about this booster requirement, including means and dates of when compliance will be required as you become eligible for a booster. Again, we recommend that you please obtain your booster, if eligible, prior to the start of winter term.
  • Students returning to university-managed residence halls for winter term will be required to be tested for COVID-19 upon their return to campus in Corvallis and at OSU-Cascades. More information about this requirement will be provided students in the days ahead.
  • The university will offer voluntary on-campus COVID-19 testing for OSU students and employees in Corvallis and Bend as winter term begins. As has been the case, OSU students and employees with a vaccination exception or in non-compliance with OSU’s vaccine requirement will be required to test for COVID-19 each week until further notice. More information about testing will be forthcoming. 
  • OSU will assist local health authorities and health care agencies in promoting booster clinics and testing opportunities.
  • The university will review and update as necessary its COVID-19 practices and procedures for in-person university events planned during winter term.

This week, we will provide guidance to supplement the COVID-19 Safety and Success website on how faculty and graduate assistants can manage COVID-19-related absences during winter term. Meanwhile, we will continue to follow health authority requirements and guidance, monitor pandemic conditions closely, and update the university community promptly on any changes in OSU’s response.

Thank you for your immediate attention to these additional measures as together we address this new variant and the pandemic. We wish you a safe and healthy holiday break.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Johnson

Interim President

Edward Feser

Provost and Executive Vice President

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17 Responses to Risk/Return tradeoff

  1. unexcellent says:

    I am mostly fine with this.

    However, regarding (3), absence of proof is not proof of absence. Determining exactly where transmission occurs is of course near impossible when subjects are exposed to large groups at multiple times. I find it doubtful that transmission will not occur in classrooms, especially with omicron.

    Nonetheless, once students are in dorms, it would appear the risk of transmission in close living quarters would be a first order effect dominating whatever the smaller risk is of classroom infection. And since “remote” does not equal “students not in dorms”, going online is less a solution than some would have you think.

  2. cruel irony duck says:

    Interestingly, unlike UO, OSU has not threatened to terminate those who do not obey the mandate.

    https://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/covid%E2%80%9019-immunization-requirements#employee

  3. Flo says:

    It’s still a little difficult to reconcile the Oregon plans with most of the other plans, including West Coast institutions. Perhaps the essential difference is unstated here but has been pointed out on this board: California is already surging. Opening the colleges would create an even stronger surge, though that’s almost hard to believe at this point. We seem to have a few weeks to go before we will have to step back and take more adequate shelter. Perhaps that is the pivot mentioned here.

    It’s great that the UO had prepared as well as it has. We could all walk pretty confidently into our classes in the Fall, even if coming home to young children or live-in older folks was sketchy. But Omicron doesn’t seem to care much about infecting you even if you are vaccinated. It looks as if it will probably help to prevent serious disease and hospitalization, but if you are infected at all, you can infect others very quickly: young children, older people, immune-compromised people. Another problem is that we do not know the consquences of a “mild” infection–the possibility of “long Covid,” or other future complications.

    Everyone I know at the UO is deeply dedicated to seeing all of our students succeed–and to stay healthy.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      a well balanced post. we’ll see. oregon is behind on the omicron surge so perhaps can wait. If it goes out of control, it’s on Schill. In fairness, things much better this year than last. They should really work on the students and all of us to behave responsibly. Had we done better, things would be different now.

  4. thedudd says:

    Surprised but overall I think this is good.

    If we were going to cancel class for a week then we might as well do for a month because Omicron surge and drop won’t be over until March.

    But hospitalizations appear flat in UK despite cases surging suggesting Omicron will largely just displace Delta and leave more.immunity in it’s wake.

  5. Silenus says:

    I think this will turn out to be a huge miscalculation by Schill and the other administrators. When the students return to campus from high-spread areas, they will be the fuel for the rapid spread of omicron. As the data from the other states shows quite clearly, there’s no stopping exponential spread once omicron establishes a foothold in a community. Teaching in-person without social distancing, no regulation of mask quality, and inconsistent levels of boosting during the first month of classes will simply accelerate the spread. Shame on Schill for playing Russian roulette with the health and welfare of our students, staff, and faculty!

  6. IT's Classified says:

    While I am fully in favor of the vaccine(s), I do think it’s premature to have the booster deadline be only 2 weeks after the actual vaccine mandate deadline (1/14). Especially while both CDC and WHO still define “fully vaccinated” as 2x mRNA or 1x JJ shots. The policy should be that people should maintain “fully vaccinated” status…. AND the booster is still only under Emergency Use Authorization– does this mean the philosophical exemption is back (for the booster only)?

    • cruel irony duck says:

      Regarding the philosophical exemption, I’m guessing not.

      As for cruel irony, I’m realizing that if I do decide to go get my booster right now, it will be by far the most COVID-dangerous situation I’ve put myself in for over a year. It’s the height of omicron, and I’d be standing around in a room filled with virus factories, mostly masks akimbo (if that even matters).

      Elsewhere, someone likened the mandate to a political purge, more than anything else. Perhaps not directly intended, but I suspect the University wouldn’t mind decimating their most troublesome ranks.

  7. Florence says:

    Oregon universities are looking more and more like high-risk outliers. NYT today, Dec 30: “Covid Live Updates: U.S. Sets One-Day Record With Nearly Half a Million New Cases. The staggering figure is almost twice as high as the worst days of last winter, and may be an undercount. Hospitalizations are not rising as fast, raising hopes that the Omicron wave is producing less severe illness.” Since Omicron is effective at infecting the vaccinated, the Oregon plan looks more and more like a high risk gamble with mass infection, without much regard for those vulnerable ones to whom the virus will spread very, very rapidly. Many now believe that Delta and Omicron are circulating together. I sincerely hope I am misperceiving things here.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      I can imagine mass defections among vulnerable faculty if it gets really hairy. An option to go remote might be their best bet. Better than canceling classes or having to dragoon other faculty into taking over. Again, I’m talking about if UO’s recent good record starts to collapse. It is hard to have too much confidence. They certainly have not given faculty much leeway. At some point, desertion becomes a reasonable way. Of course, hope it doesn’t come to that.

      • uomatters says:

        Desertion sounds so criminal. How about “temporary retreat to a more defensible position”?

        • Dog says:

          would we even be told if a UO faculty member has died as a result
          of a covid infection? In fact, I think there was a passing last summer but can not verify this.

          • Fly says:

            You are referring to this? “To date, there has been no documented case of classroom-based transmission of COVID-19 at the University of Oregon.” What office is responsible for such documenting? What’s the procedure in place to be sure that all such cases are being documented? What is the percentage of all student cases that are likely to be classroom-based transmissions? Who would know and how?

          • Craig O'ThePlague says:

            I heard that a staff member died last summer too. But no official reports. Not even a notice that someone died of anything. What if I knew them?! The university should publicize deaths of its community members for basic decency and mourning purposes.

  8. Shhh. says:

    There has been cases of very seriously long covid damaged employees at UO. As far as I know, none have been reported.

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