Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff tuned into a Jan. 11 Community Conversations: COVID webinar to hear from Chancellor Michelle Marks and other CU Denver leaders on important updates, including switching to remote learning for the first two weeks of the spring semester due to the current COVID surge and implementing a campuswide vaccine booster requirement.
Marks kicked off the conversation alongside Managing Associate University Counsel Chris Puckett and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Pamela Jansma, who are co-chairs of the Lynx Together Task Force, as well as leaders from student-facing departments and teams, including housing and dining, facilities, digital strategy and learning, contract tracing, and others.
In her opening remarks, Marks acknowledged the Lynx Together Task Force’s commitment to protect the CU Denver community and ensure education continues, as well as the current COVID surge and the ongoing impact on students, faculty, and staff. “We make every decision with our students, safety, and science at the forefront,” Marks said. “We can never know what the future holds, and these are proving to be uncertain times. But after nearly two years of operating through a pandemic, we’re in a fundamentally different place than we were at the beginning. We have a lot of experience to guide our decision making.”
A live Q&A followed opening remarks with more than 130 questions from the audience—and more than 100 were answered live. Below are five key takeaways.
1. In-Person Learning, Teaching, and Working Resumes Jan. 31
In response to the Omicron variant, a COVID surge, and strain on hospital systems, CU Denver will begin spring semester with remote learning from Jan. 18 – 28. Staff who are able to work remotely are expected to do so through Jan. 28, in consultation with their supervisors. Students will still be able to move into on-campus residence halls Jan. 14-17, with required rapid testing on-site. During these two weeks, campus remains open for essential academic activity, such as in-person labs and facilities management. “We’ve asked our deans to work with faculty and department chairs to identify the activities that must happen in person over the next two weeks,” Puckett said.
Campus leaders will continue to track COVID case numbers and work with public health officials on guidance to ensure safety while continuing education. CU Denver plans to return to in-person teaching, learning, and working starting Jan. 31. “That doesn’t mean everybody has to be in-person all the time, but it does mean that we all need to be prepared to provide in-person services to our constituencies,” Marks said.
2. Vaccine Boosters Are Required by Jan. 31
After consulting with public health experts, CU Denver announced on Jan. 6 a COVID booster requirement for all students, faculty, and staff who are learning, teaching, or working on campus. Individuals must receive a booster by Jan. 31, 2022. If it has been less than six months since an individual’s last COVID vaccine, they will be required to get the booster within one month of eligibility. .
Individuals may continue to receive an exemption from the vaccine or booster requirement for medical and non-medical reasons. Unvaccinated individuals must get tested weekly and wear a face covering on campus at all times. CU Denver community members can schedule a free booster shot at the Health Center at Auraria or through many other providers in the metro Denver area.
“Both the CDC and the state are having active conversations about redefining what fully vaccinated means and including the booster because data is showing that if you get the booster, you will have a much better outcome,” Puckett said. “It’s not a guarantee that you won’t get sick, but boosters will help protect you from getting seriously ill or hospitalized.”
3. Tech Help is Available for Faculty
Assistance is available for faculty transitioning to online teaching or those who are interested in using campus resources to teach remotely. The Office of Digital Education offers one-on-one support for faculty and instructors who are transitioning their courses to a remote environment. The service desk is available for phone inquiries and a portal chat Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
4. If You’re Sick, Stay Home
“There’s one thing that I want to make sure that we do, and this is one of the things we know works. If you’re sick, don’t come in. Contact your supervisor, contact your faculty member, talk to them. See what you can figure out. Over the next two weeks, in particular, we are going to need to be extremely flexible,” Puckett said.
If an individual is exposed to COVID, experiences symptoms, or tests positive, they are required to fill out a self-report form and, per CU Denver’s updated protocols, quarantine off-campus for five days. CU Denver’s contract tracing team will assist individuals with clearance to return to school or work.
Campus community members are encouraged to get tested regularly. On-and off-campus testing locations are available.
5. Safety Protocols, including Masks, Remain in Place
Currently, the CDC recommends wearing a mask with two or more layers of fabric, though discussions are underway on recommending N95 or KN95 face covering or surgical masks. CU Denver will continue to require face coverings for anyone indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status. Campus leaders are working to offer higher-quality masks to students, faculty, and staff who return to campus on Jan. 31. The contact tracing team is also establishing mask ambassadors to assist with enforcement.
Campus leaders acknowledged the ongoing pandemic’s impact on individuals’ physical and emotional wellbeing. They remind CU Denver community members to take care of themselves and their families and prioritize personal time.
“Make sure you have some time to relax and let go, and to just be, because I think that’s going to be important,” Jansma said. “We’re all tired. We all want this to go away … We’ll get through this because we’ve done it before, and we are a great community.”