Spring semester online start and testing updates
Dear faculty, staff and students,
With the omicron variant fueling a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across Illinois and the nation, and a likely surge in the coming weeks based on the speed of transmissibility, holiday travel and gatherings, we decided to start the spring semester with two weeks of online instruction.
This is not how we expected the spring semester to begin; however, if there is any consistency to COVID-19, it is its unpredictability. In being adaptable for the spring semester, it is critically important that we support academic continuity by minimizing disruptions to students’ learning and coursework while providing as much planning and predictability as we can for students and faculty. With this in mind, the spring semester includes the following changes:
- Classes will be online for the first two weeks, Monday, Jan. 10 through Sunday, Jan. 23. Exceptions will be made for the health sciences colleges, labs, clinics, internships and other classes that cannot be offered virtually, including those that start before Jan. 10. These will be handled on a case-by-case basis by the colleges and the academic departments and units in the coming weeks.
- In-person classes are expected to resume Monday, Jan. 24. Social distancing in the classroom will not be necessary because face masks, which will remain required indoors on campus, and vaccines (96% of the UIC community is vaccinated) continue to be the best forms of defense against COVID-19 transmission. In addition, an updated tool and protocols for contract tracing will be shared separately in a following message.
- All students are expected to take a PCR test before returning to campus. More information about testing is provided below.
- Students, along with faculty and staff, are urged to obtain a booster, if eligible, prior to returning to campus. Vaccines are available on campus or at a location near you.
We anticipate the two-week period of online instruction will allow students to get booster doses, settle in and navigate any health issues without the concern of missing the beginning of the semester. In planning for these adjustments, please keep in mind that other operations, such as residence halls, student centers, dining services and the libraries, will remain open.
Employees should plan on resuming their normal work schedules following the winter break. Any changes to work schedules or work locations will be communicated separately by unit directors and supervisors.
CAMPUS RE-ENTRY TESTING
Prior to or upon returning to campus, re-entry testing will be required for all members of the UIC community, including those who are vaccinated. PCR testing, which includes on-campus saliva testing, is required. If you are on or near campus prior to Jan. 24, you should take advantage of the free on-campus saliva testing for campus re-entry. It is expected on-campus testing sites will be busy the week of Jan. 24. If you will not return until that week, you should obtain a PCR test in your local area within 72 hours of your return to campus.
ONGOING TESTING REQUIREMENTS
Additional COVID-19 saliva testing requirements will be implemented to quickly identify and closely monitor the prevalence of infection in our community. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students, faculty and staff with a medical or religious exemption will continue to be required to test twice per 7-day period, 48 or more hours apart. Student athletes will continue to follow testing directives from UIC Athletics.
Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5, regardless of vaccination status:
- All students, faculty and staff in residential housing and performing arts are required to test once per 7-day period.
- All students, faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to participate in UIC’s surveillance testing. Specific units and departments will be contacted via email throughout the semester on a rotating basis to participate in on-campus saliva testing. This surveillance testing initiative will help to inform current and future health and safety measures on campus.
- All students, faculty and staff are encouraged to utilize on-campus saliva testing at any time.
- Attendance at in-person events on campus will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the gathering. If you test on campus, COVID-19 testing results are available in your MyChart account.
Similar evidence-based protocols in the fall were successful in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks within our classrooms and workspaces. This remains a very dynamic situation and additional measures may need to be taken. We will continue to keep you posted as we monitor and evaluate the pandemic by following the science and public health guidance to protect your health and safety. We’ve provided additional answers to questions you may have below.
We extend our sincere appreciation to the students and faculty for their flexibility in making this adjustment. Our faculty has become well-versed with online instruction over the course of the pandemic, and we hope this two-week period will make classroom preparation and management easier than it otherwise might be. Still, we recognize this will be an adjustment, and resources to support faculty will continue to be available.
Over the holiday season, please continue to be diligent about protecting yourself and your loved ones by masking indoors, testing regularly, and staying home when sick.
May you enjoy a much-deserved restful winter break and thank you for your continued commitment to supporting our community’s health and students’ academic progress.
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Robert Barish, MD, MBA
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
Susan Bleasdale, MD
Chief Quality Officer and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Quality & Patient Safety
ADDITIONAL Q&As REGARDING THE START OF THE SPRING SEMESTER
Why is this step being taken now, rather than waiting to see if COVID-19 cases increase once we are back on campus?
Our priority is keeping our campus community safe and healthy; therefore, the decision, guided by science and data, was made to better safeguard the health and well-being of the UIC community, while minimizing academic disruptions and providing students and faculty with as much predictability as possible. Also, we believe it is prudent to make this adjustment now to give faculty more time to plan for the first two weeks of virtual instruction, rather than making a shift during the university’s winter closure or just prior to returning to campus.
Are COVID-19 cases increasing on campus and is that why this decision was made?
While the fall semester has concluded, there has been an increase in positive COVID-19 cases on campus and in the community in the last week. Cases are projected to continue to rise in Chicago and Illinois during the holiday break.
Is there concern that classroom and workspaces are not safe?
No. We continue to have very high indoor masking compliance on campus and generally have not seen transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms and workspaces. Our masking requirements remain in place and there will be limited gatherings and campus activities for the first two weeks of the spring semester to further limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
What will be available and accessible for students on campus during the first two weeks of remote learning?
All residence halls, student centers and dining options will be open and available. The Daley and Health Sciences Chicago libraries will be open limited hours. If an accommodation is needed due to disability or medical condition, contact the Office for Access and Equity.
Are resources available to aid the faculty in preparing for online instruction?
Yes. The Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence (CATE) provides resources, guides and classes.