Novel coronavirus information

July 22, 2020

Things to consider as you prepare for autumn quarter (Message to students)

This message was sent to current and incoming students across the University of Washington.

Dear Students,

We hope you are well and safe during these difficult times. As we shared in our Back-to-School overview in late June, all of our planning for autumn quarter is subject to where our county, state and nation are in terms of the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, the news on this front has not been good. Our nation is in the midst of an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.

Infection rates are not quite as alarming in Washington state and King and Pierce counties, but cases have increased here. We know this may raise questions for you and your families about what the autumn quarter will entail as you make plans and decisions. Although conditions continue to be extremely fluid and unpredictable, we write today to provide you with the best information and guidance we have and to ensure that you stay as safe as possible while you continue your education.

The vast majority of our classes, including all classes of more than 50 students, are already scheduled for online instruction. However, based on the evidence we have now, we will likely need to move even more courses online, possibly to fewer than 10% in-person classes for undergraduates on the Seattle campus. In this scenario, in-person instruction would be heavily weighted toward courses in which hands-on and in-person learning is most critical, such as clinical instruction, certain labs, and arts- and performance-based courses. Within UW Medicine and other parts of health sciences graduate education, for example, a large portion of learning is currently happening in person in hospitals and clinics, and that will likely continue. UW Bothell and UW Tacoma already have the vast majority of all classes offered remotely.

All activities on campus will continue to be guided by state and county requirements and local COVID-19 prevention plans. The UW’s critical research enterprise, including work on a COVID-19 vaccine and antibody research, will also continue — it has never stopped — and research conducted in person will continue to be done in accordance with appropriate safety plans.

Reducing in-person instruction even further would be disappointing for all of us. But whatever the modality, we remain wholly committed to ensuring students can continue their academic progress. UW faculty, instructors and support staff are continuing to raise the bar and develop new ways of delivering instruction through high-quality online coursework, academic advising, student services and community-building activities. We will provide more definitive guidance about the degree to which instruction will be online or in person, including an updated course schedule, no later than Friday, Aug. 7.

In the meantime, given the rise in cases, we ask you and your families to think seriously about what living situation will make the most sense for you this fall. As we shared last month, residence hall accommodations will remain available, as they have been throughout the pandemic, for those students who desire or require on-campus housing. We are committed to taking every reasonable precaution to keep our community healthy, including creating the safest possible conditions on campus: requiring masks and cultivating community norms that make masking, good hygiene and physical distancing standard practices among students, faculty and staff in our facilities, academic spaces and residence halls. We will also provide robust testing and contact tracing in line with public health guidance.

We do not, however, have jurisdiction over housing that is off campus, including the enforcement of masking and physical distancing that will be the norm in campus facilities. Please think seriously about where you choose to live as well as the choices you make within your living environments. Community safety is a top priority for us, and we will do everything in our power to support healthy and safe behavior for all of our students. But ultimately, it’s the choices you make for yourselves and with your families and friends that will have the greatest impact on your health and safety and the course of this virus.

State and county officials continue to plan for a range of public health scenarios this fall based on the status of the virus. While there are still many unknowns, one thing we know with certainty is that it requires all of us to suppress transmission. Our University is driven by evidence and facts — relying on accurate information to make decisions is fundamental to who we are. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s most knowledgeable epidemiologists and health-care experts on our campus and advising us on a daily basis. They and public health experts across the nation and around the world have given everyone the information needed to slow the virus and operate our campuses and our communities safely. Their guidance — the “3 Ws” — is clear:

Wear Your Mask. Wash Your Hands. Watch Your Distance.

The containment of this virus and eventual reopening of society is in all of our (frequently washed) hands.

Thank you for your patience. We’ll be corresponding again soon.


Ana Mari Cauce
Professor of Psychology

Mark Richards
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Earth and Space Sciences