Forward Together: UO prepares for an in-person fall term

Students wearing masks while studying

As students prepare to return to classrooms for the first time in 18 months, the UO will rely on a suite of safety strategies to ensure they can safely reap the full benefits of in-person learning and the university can sustain core research activities.

Foremost among those strategies, UO President Michael Schill said, is the UO’s vaccine requirement. The university is requiring students, faculty members and staff to be vaccinated or submit an exemption request prior to the start of the fall term.

Schill is encouraged by the current high vaccination rates among both staff and students. More than 95 percent of UO students and employees who have submitted their information are fully vaccinated. In addition, Eugene and the zip codes surrounding the UO all report high vaccination rates. The UO updates its vaccination response rates weekly via an online dashboard.

“Requiring vaccinations is critical for public health,” Schill said in announcing the requirement. “It will help us to reach the highest level of protection possible, reduce infections, limit many of the disruptions of COVID-19, and safeguard the community we live in. It will also allow our campus community to move forward together and return to the in-person and on-campus experience that is the cornerstone of academic success, student experience, and research innovation.”

In addition to the vaccination requirement, weekly COVID-19 testing is now required for the anticipated small percentage of unvaccinated students and employees who choose an exemption. The weekly requirement takes effect Monday, Sept. 27, the first day of classes. Those with an exemption who are required to test will be notified by email.

COVID-19 testing is also encouraged for vaccinated individuals, including students living off campus in group living or apartment settings, faculty members and employees whose work requires them to be on campus, and members of underserved communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

André LeDuc, associate vice president and chief resilience officer, said the UO’s Monitoring and Assessment Program can now manage 4,000 tests a week through faster saliva testing, automated registration, and regularly scheduled sessions four days a week. The tests are for people who are not experiencing any signs of illness.

Some of the other COVID-19 safety requirements include face coverings required in all classrooms, although instructors can deliver class material without a mask if six feet of distance is maintained; and required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at public events such as games, concerts or conferences.

Also, in buildings, UO staff is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oregon Health Authority recommendations to boost air exchange rates as much as possible, reduce the out-and-in transfer of contaminants, and upgrade filters where the air handling systems allow.

LeDuc said models show that the delta variant cases will spike and diminish this fall. However, he said it is the resilience and experience of UO community members, who have weathered the downs and ups of the pandemic, that ultimately will be key to providing the full benefits of in-person living and learning.

In a recent campus message, Le Duc, Schill and Provost Patrick Phillips reinforced the strong benefit of that experience.

“These are challenging times that require extra diligence and careful preparation,” they wrote. “We are confident that with these public health strategies and all that we have learned from living with this virus that we can do what we do best: rely on science and best practices, remain vigilant and nimble, look out for each other with care and compassion, and move forward together with our in-person world-class educational and research experience.”