Spring Semester Planning Considerations
Baylor Students, Faculty, Staff and Parents:
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with family and loved ones and you are looking forward to the Sugar Bowl, as our Baylor Bears face Ole Miss on New Year’s Day in New Orleans. I suspect many of you have been monitoring the spread of the latest COVID-19 variant, Omicron, as its presence has gained a foothold in the United States over the past couple of weeks.
Here is what we know from early data on the Omicron strain:
- Omicron is highly transmissible;
- COVID-19 boosters are extremely important for protection against serious infection resulting from Omicron; and
- Omicron cases appear – at least at this point – to be less severe, especially among the vaccinated and particularly among the boosted.
Our Health Management Team, in consultation with external experts we’ve engaged throughout the pandemic, has been closely following Omicron as we eye the start of the semester on Jan. 18, 2022. They have been working through several planning scenarios related to pre-semester activities as well as the spring semester itself. If you recall, we have experienced high COVID-19 case counts at the beginning of each semester during the pandemic. And given the latest projections, we need to be prepared for an even greater spike among students, faculty and staff with Omicron.
As we’ve seen with the airline, healthcare and service industries over the holidays, we understand that Omicron has the potential to cause widespread employee absences – even with mild symptoms – and severely impact an organization’s ongoing operations. For Baylor, such operations would be the availability of faculty to teach classes, advisors to support student activities, dining and custodial staff to care for students and the campus, and staff to support a variety of daily University functions.
With these facts in mind, the President’s Council and I recommend you and your families consider and prepare for the following possibilities for the start of Baylor’s spring semester:
- Beginning the spring semester as scheduled but on a remote/virtual/online basis for all classes, meetings and student activities until Tuesday, Feb. 1. (Baylor Law School students will receive a separate communication from their Dean.) This potential decision would allow us to lower the population density on campus for the first two weeks of the semester and allow time for everyone who is eligible to voluntarily get a booster shot. Also, this would enable us to take into account any new information about Omicron that emerges after the New Year;
- Opening residence halls as planned, but with the requirement that all residential students test within the first 24 hours of returning to campus. Students should have a plan if they become infected, as quarantine and isolation services will be severely limited;
- Proceeding with on-campus, in-person Panhellenic recruitment as planned, but with elevated testing and health protocols in place and the ability to pivot to virtual if necessary;
- Continuing with the January online and professional and education programs as planned;
- Returning staff to campus as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 4;
- Continuing the campus face coverings requirement for at least the first two weeks of the spring semester for all classrooms and labs when used for academic instruction, in addition to some indoor locations where appropriate social distancing may not be possible, private faculty and staff offices when requested, and other areas designated by posted signage; and
- Maintaining mandatory testing for unvaccinated individuals, but with the addition of mandatory surveillance testing of 10% of all students, faculty and staff for at least the first two weeks of the semester. Those who have received a COVID-19 booster or who have had a positive COVID test within the past 180 days will be exempt from testing. Use the form at www.baylor.edu/vaccine to upload your completed vaccination card, including a booster dose, or your positive COVID test within the past 180 days.
Obviously, our strong preference is to begin the spring semester and related activities as initially planned and as scheduled. Several projections indicate that Omicron will have spiked and potentially receded by late January, right after our scheduled start of the semester. We want to be prayerful and prudent in our decision-making not only for your health and well-being and that of the greater Waco community, but also for the University’s ongoing operations, including academic instruction, residential life, dining and custodial services, student activities and staff support functions.
We anticipate providing another, more definitive update on the spring semester for you early next week. For the next several days, we urge you to develop a plan based on the possibilities outlined above and consider getting a COVID-19 vaccination or booster at your home location if you have not done so already.
While there remains much to learn about the new Omicron variant, our knowledge of COVID-19 is much better than when the pandemic began in early 2020. We now have effective vaccines and boosters, as well as pharmaceutical treatments for those who contract the virus. We also understand far better how to protect ourselves through various mitigation strategies. Most public health experts believe there will not be a clear end to the pandemic as COVID-19 transitions into an ongoing endemic condition, but also one that is generally less life-threatening.
We have activated our Call Center at 888-283-2158, which will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday-Friday for any questions you may have. Please note that due to the New Year’s holiday, the Call Center will be closed on Friday, Dec. 31, and Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. We encourage you to explore the many Frequently Asked Questions that have been developed based on this communication. You also can email email@example.com; however, we ask for your patience in our responding due to an anticipated high volume of inquiries during the holidays.
Please continue to enjoy the holiday break, as our University has been so blessed in 2021 and as we anticipate the New Year! The fall semester was such a tremendous success at Baylor, and we remain committed to keeping our campuses safe and continuing in-person instruction with all activities scheduled for Spring 2022.
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.