We are continuing to monitor the surge in COVID-19 cases locally and throughout the region. The significant increase in cases is, in part, due to the spread of the omicron variant, which is more easily transmissible than the delta variant. So far, it has resulted mainly in mild to moderate symptoms among vaccinated individuals. Our public health team continually monitors COVID-19 transmission data and the changing local and federal public health guidance. We have also consulted with academic institutions in the D.C. consortium of universities. Further, the CDC predicts a potential peak in COVID-19 cases in January. Our most recent weekly positivity rate has increased to 19 percent, which is the highest number we have seen throughout the pandemic. At that rate, we would not have enough beds to quarantine positive students living in the residence halls, if students returned on the originally scheduled start date for the spring semester.
As a result, we will delay the start of the Spring 2022 semester for undergraduate and graduate students until Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Face-to-face courses will begin on that date. University administrative operations will begin on January 3, 2022. Students in professional programs will receive specific guidance from their schools to accommodate accreditation and licensure requirements.
Vaccinations, mask usage and regular testing were integral to our successful operations during the Fall semester. We previously announced that all faculty, staff and students will be required to receive a COVID-19 booster by Monday, January 31, 2022, if you are already eligible for a booster, or within 30 days after becoming eligible.
Approved medical and religious exemptions will continue to be granted. Booster vaccines are available on campus on the first floor of the Howard University Hospital, Freedmen’s Hall, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., with no appointment necessary. Students should continue to upload vaccine documentation in Med+Proctor, and employees should upload vaccine documentation in Workday. We will continue to require mask usage indoors and in group settings outdoors.
Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 will continue to occur. We know that individuals who have received a booster shot of mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have significantly more antibodies in their system than individuals who have not yet received booster shots and even more than those who are unvaccinated. These increased antibody levels result in greater effectiveness of the vaccines, reducing severe illness or hospitalization. The bottom line is that you are more protected if you are vaccinated.
We are also requiring that everyone returning to campus from Winter Break for the Spring 2022 semester will be required to provide proof of a negative PCR test within four days prior to arrival.
Students in residential housing will return to campus beginning Friday, January 14, 2022 between 7:00am-9:00pm. While administrative operations will resume on January 3, 2022, meetings will be conducted virtually wherever possible, and units with approved telework authority may continue to implement that flexibility. Your cabinet officials will provide specific guidance to each unit.
A virtual town hall will be scheduled to discuss more details and answer any questions we receive prior to the start of classes. Updates will be communicated via email, and general updates will be shared on Howard’s Twitter page.
Our highest priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. These steps will help us maintain as safe an environment as possible in order to provide the best educational experience to our students. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, we are leveraging our collective knowledge and experience to adapt our community to the many changes in the virus and the pandemic.