From the President: Our Continued Plans for a Safe Fall Semester
Monday, August 16, 2021
Dear campus community,
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of joining colleagues from Housing and Residential Life, and volunteers from many other campus offices, to welcome almost 3,000 residential students to campus, mostly first year students new to SF State and second year students who were on campus, often for the very first time. Despite the face coverings and the requirement to take a COVID test immediately upon arrival, the joy these students and their families expressed at being on campus was incredible and an important reminder of how important it is that we bring our students back and resume in-person classes.
I am thrilled to report that the students’ joy at returning was matched by their support for our safety measures—99% are vaccinated, all wore face coverings, and we had nary a complaint about the mandatory testing. And our local data to date match what institutions like UCSD and UT Austin are projecting for extremely low positivity rates among highly vaccinated populations. As of today, of the 2800 for whom we have results, only 8 have tested positive—this is a remarkably low positivity rate. Some of these students have returned home for two weeks and the rest are in isolation in a residence area used only for this purpose.
This is good news for our return. Eighteen months ago we hoped to flatten the curve and eradicate COVID-19. We now know that we must learn to live in a world with the virus but in ways that reduce its transmission and minimize the severity of the disease. With high rates of vaccination, mandatory face coverings and other forms of PPE, testing and reduced capacity on campus this fall, we have taken the steps necessary for a safe return.
COVID-19 Vaccination Rates
We have been assured that a campus can open safely with a high rate of vaccination. Experts at the University of California believe that rates of 90% or higher will allow campuses to open. We have spent the two weeks since the CSU announced its COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Policy working intensely to get our students to upload proof of vaccination. As of today, almost 87% of those registered for an in-person class have submitted their proof and less than 2% have requested a medical or religious exception.
With a week to go before the start of classes, we will work to increase this number significantly. Students who have not uploaded their proof of vaccination or requested a medical or religious exemption by 5pm on Tuesday, 8/17, will be dropped from their in-person class(es) on Wednesday, 8/18. It is absolutely critical that these students comply by Tuesday. Those who do not submit proof or request an exemption will need to add online classes.
Our employees, as well, are demonstrating their commitment to a being a highly vaccinated campus. I am deeply grateful to Sandee Noda, CSUEU chapter president, and James Martel, CFA chapter president, for their efforts to encourage their members to upload their proof of vaccination or submit a medical or religious exemption. Last week, I was very touched by the efforts of staff and administrators to assist their colleagues who wanted assistance with uploading their proof of vaccination. To date, more than 2,000 employees have uploaded their proof with very, very few requests for a medical or religious exception. Again, I am deeply grateful for the collaborative work to meet our goal.
For the small percentage of people who have approved exemptions from vaccination, we will have weekly COVID-19 testing by a vendor that can test samples within a 6- to 8-hour period. Testing will also be available to those who come into close contact with someone on campus who tests positive. We have a team of contact tracers who will identify those who have been in close contact with someone infected by COVID-19 and contact them directly with information. We are following the guidelines of the SF Department of Health assiduously. Unvaccinated people who have been in close contact will be required to quarantine for ten days, and we will make accommodations to allow them to continue with their work or studies. Vaccinated people who have been in close contact are not required to quarantine but must wear face coverings indoors—a safety measure we have already have in place for all.
Employees should contact Human Resources if you have questions about what options may be available. Students should contact the Dean on Call.
Vaccination remains our most powerful tool for managing the disease, but I also offer a quick reminder of the many safety measures we have in place:
• Required weekly on-campus testing of unvaccinated individuals
• On-campus testing available for students and employees who came into close contact on campus with someone who tests positive
• Reduced capacity across campus
• Required isolation for those who test positive (on campus for residential students)
• Mandatory face coverings
• Availability of personal protective equipment
City and County Update
Some have likely heard that Stanislaus State has decided to delay the start of in-person activities. It is important that – as we consider our plans or the plans of others – we consider the local context. How vaccinated is the county? How vaccinated is the campus? How assiduously does the community embrace measures like mandatory face coverings? SF City and County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state; Stanislaus County one of the lowest. As of this weekend, SF Department of Health is reporting that 78% of San Franciscans 12 and over are fully vaccinated and 85% have at least one dose. This also helps explain that even as cases have increased in the city, hospitalizations have not. And the number of daily new cases has dropped significantly since SF implemented more stringent rules recently.
I do not want to minimize how anxious this moment is. We have stayed safe for the last 18 months by (most of us) staying at home. But with high rates of vaccination in the region and on campus, it is time to carefully return to campus. Science and local, esteemed colleagues at UCSF support this – high vaccination, face coverings and testing are the path to a safe return. We will continue to share data about vaccination rates and campus cases. I will continue to communicate with you. Please check our Campus Comeback website regularly for the latest updates.
I have said this before and I say it again: I cannot think of a better university to be at during this difficult transitionary moment. This past week I saw hundreds of colleagues move heaven and earth to provide vaccinations to students and employees, help them upload their proof, develop a testing protocol, and open a testing site. I have never been prouder to serve a university. And the joy with which our first returning students and families responded made every bit of that hard work worth it. On behalf of our students, thank you all.
Whether joining in person or via the web, I look forward to opening our academic year officially at Open Convocation on August 18 in-person at McKenna Theatre and livestreamed on the Academic Senate site.
Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.