Novel coronavirus information

January 3, 2022

The UW plans to resume largely in-person instruction Jan. 10 (Message to UW students and personnel)

Update – 1/7/22: Due to changing health conditions, including increased stress on the area’s health-care system and rising cases and positivity rates in the University community, additional flexibility is being provided to instructors. See the message from President Cauce and Provost Richards for more details.

This message was sent to students, staff, faculty and academic personnel across the University of Washington.

Dear UW community,

We hope you had a joyful and restorative winter break that enabled you to recharge for the coming year. We’re writing to confirm that after this week of mostly online classes the University plans to resume largely in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 10, as well as to share our plans for managing through the disruptions that the Omicron variant is causing.

We want to begin by again thanking you for the wonderful way you came together autumn quarter to allow for a safe and productive in-person experience. The start of this quarter may well provide us with even more uncertainty and challenges, but we’ve shown that by following the science and being diligent in heeding safety protocols we can create positive learning and working environments. Consideration of others, attention to self-care and continuing adaptability will be key.

Throughout the quarter, it will be vitally important that anyone who has symptoms stay home from class or work, and if you traveled or went to gatherings during break, please get tested before you come back to campus.

We each have a role to play in preventing coronavirus transmission, including wearing well-fitted, high-quality masks, getting booster shots, getting tested when we have symptoms, and staying home when sick or symptomatic. On masks, the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant means it is recommended that we upgrade to surgical masks that fit well. KN95 or KF94 masks are also excellent options.

We also strongly encourage you to get your booster shot as soon as you are eligible. Boosters provide increased protection in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and they are widely available now. It’s likely the definition of “fully vaccinated” will change to include boosters in the future, so getting one now will prepare you for that change.

It is also critical that we all avoid high-risk behaviors — such as large, unmasked gatherings — in order to minimize disruptions to the winter quarter. At the same time, we should also realize it’s possible to do everything right and still contract COVID-19, so we should extend some grace to ourselves and to others if that happens.

With the rapid spread of Omicron, in order to maintain high-quality instruction and University services, especially in the earlier parts of winter quarter, we need to plan as a community to accommodate significant numbers of individuals needing to stay home to isolate or quarantine over the course of the quarter.

Instructors should plan for how to accommodate higher than usual student absences due to illness, which may be magnified by weather-related travel disruptions. Instructors can alter their instructional modality for specified periods of time — including a change to remote instruction — to accommodate large numbers of student absences or their own need to isolate or quarantine, in consultation with their dean, chair or director. It is critical that students be given as much advance notice as possible if and when that is needed. Please also make every effort to spell out expected teaching modalities in course syllabi. We will continue to prioritize in-person learning, even as absences or specific circumstances may make temporary changes for individual courses necessary.

Managers should provide their employees with flexibility while also ensuring that University services are maintained. Existing in-person and telework guidance provides the flexibility to work with employees on arrangements that meet their needs and enable us to maintain operations. As a reminder, facilities at all three campuses remain operational this week — including housing, libraries, advising and student services — and research activities can continue in person. Buildings will remain largely open during work hours.

We continue to track this fluid situation with our public health experts. Should it become necessary, we are prepared to pivot to temporary periods of online learning this quarter, either for individual classes or overall. In evaluating whether such a pivot is required, we are monitoring hospital capacity, disruptions to community supports such as K-12 schools and childcare facilities, and potential changes in local, state or federal policies. As the quarter proceeds, we will also watch closely for evidence of significant classroom or workplace transmission, as well as the effects of absences on our ability to maintain critical operations. We will keep you informed if any of these require modifications to our operations.

We are already seeing the peak of the Omicron wave in other parts of the world followed by rapid declines and can have hope that we will soon reach the crest in our region. It will take all of us to navigate through this wave — and all the physical, mental and emotional impacts it brings — yet we can take comfort in knowing that we have the tools and the community-minded spirit needed to do so. Together we are stronger.

Best wishes for a successful — and safe — start to the new year.

Ana Mari Cauce
Professor of Psychology

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