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Update as we prepare for autumn quarter

As we shared in our Back-to-School overview in late June, our planning for autumn quarter is contingent upon our county, state and nation continuing to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, the current news is not good, and 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 also increased here.

We acknowledge that our community, including students, seeks clarity about how the current increase in cases will impact autumn quarter. In most instances, teaching, research and on-campus work continues to be guided by state and county requirements and our local COVID-19 prevention plans, which we expect to remain in effect for the majority of employees through the fall term. Our 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.

It’s also true that conditions continue to be extremely fluid and unpredictable. The degree to which instruction will be online versus in person is top of mind for many. Current plans call for holding the majority of our undergraduate classes, including all classes of more than 50 students, online, pending public health conditions. The Governor also issued a proclamation allowing in-person instruction to proceed starting Aug. 1 with appropriate safety protocols in place, irrespective of county phases. However, based on the evidence we have now, we will likely 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 the kinds of 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 the 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.

If we do need to scale back in-person instruction, it will be disappointing for all of us. But we, of course, remain wholly committed to ensuring our students can continue their academic progress. We appreciate that faculty, instructors and support staff continue 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 also appreciate that clarity regarding changes to course modalities is essential to planning, and we will provide more definitive guidance, including a revised course schedule, about the degree to which instruction will be online or in person no later than Friday, Aug. 7.

State and county officials continue to plan — as do we — for a range of public health scenarios this fall based on the status of the virus. 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 faculty and advising us on a daily basis. Their guidance — the “3 Ws” — is clear:

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