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Fall COVID-19 Guidance

Aug. 4, 2021

Dear Members of the UD Community:

Thank you for the tremendous patience and diligence that you have exercised throughout the past year and a half as we have managed through a global pandemic and other significant institutional and leadership changes. Our faculty and staff worked extraordinarily hard to make the last academic year a success, demonstrating a profound commitment to our mission -- and for that I am extremely grateful.

With the start of a new academic year less than a month away, I am writing to update you on our latest guidance for the fall semester with regard to COVID-19 protocols.

From the start of the pandemic in spring of 2020, and thanks to the dedication and guidance of our COVID Preparedness Committee, the commitment of our faculty and staff, and the resilience of our students, we adopted sensible safety measures encapsulated in the Groundhog Pledge, adapted to online and hybrid learning, and completed the 2021 academic year with a mostly in-person, residential undergraduate experience.

In May, we made some significant adjustments to our summer campus protocols in Irving. With the widespread availability of the vaccine, decreasing infection and hospitalization rates in the DFW metroplex, and in accordance with the updated CDC guidance for the fully vaccinated, we moved to ‘mask optional,’ and removed other protocols such as social distancing, on-campus guest-registration requirements, and event attendance capacity limits.

Since then, in the U.S. and in Texas, the economy has largely reopened. Churches, including those within the Diocese of Dallas, began easing COVID protocols and the Diocese will be reinstituting the Sunday mass obligation on Aug. 15. At this time, our plan is to start the 2021-22 academic year by essentially returning to normal. While this may not change the on-campus experience for adult learners who are graduate students or for those who are enrolled in our online professional development programs, the 2021-22 academic year for our undergraduate students will largely mean a return to our traditional, in-person model of education. Residential halls, for example, are returning to normal capacity to accommodate a record freshman class. However, this fall guidance comes with a few significant caveats.

First, the COVID situations both in Texas and Italy continue to be fluid. Just this past week, based on increasing infection rates and hospitalizations resulting from the delta variant, Dallas County increased the level of COVID risk to high. It appears that, according to news reports, most of the COVID hospitalizations are of individuals who have not been vaccinated, and just last week, the CDC has updated its mask guidance for those who are vaccinated.

At this time, we will not mandate masks indoors, but we will continue to evaluate this guidance based on the COVID situation in DFW and on our campus. Please note that faculty members will have the discretion to decide whether their students will be required to wear masks while in their own classes. (It is also worth noting here that the circumstances in Rome are vastly different than in Texas, and protocols for masks, and European requirements for vaccines and testing are stricter. Those who are planning to participate in the Rome program this coming academic year should consider Rome Director Peter Hatlie’s most recent guidance letter as significant travel restrictions are being imposed by Italian government and European Union authorities on those who are not vaccinated.)

We will also maintain the following protocols which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, including: 1) encouraging good personal hygiene practices, such as frequent hand-washing; 2) self-monitoring for COVID symptoms; and 3) requiring employees to self-report COVID symptoms using this form. (Students experiencing COVID symptoms will be asked to complete this form for the Student Health Center.)

Second, while employees and incoming students are not required to obtain the COVID vaccine, we recognize that vaccines have been effective in limiting the severity of COVID symptoms and preventing hospitalizations. We believe a significant number of employees have been vaccinated, but it is unclear how many new and returning students have obtained or are planning to obtain the vaccine before the start of school. We trust individuals and families to assess their own circumstances and level of COVID risk, and make decisions about mitigating that risk accordingly. Although we are planning to offer vaccines to students and employees (just as we offer the flu vaccine) on a voluntary basis on campus soon after school starts, we are committed to following the recommendations and guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Diocese of Dallas, and trusted sources such as the National Catholic Bioethics Center, to ensure only morally acceptable options are offered. Details about the on-campus vaccine clinic are forthcoming.

Third, we are wholly committed to delivering the unique, in-person learning experience for which we are known, while balancing our responsibility for the health and safety of our entire campus community. To that end, reasonable accommodations may be made for employees who are medically at-risk. (Students can request accommodations through Disability Services; employees with a medical condition may start the ADA accommodation process by contacting Eva Avila, Senior HR Generalist, at eavila@udallas.edu.)

Lastly, as a Catholic university, we cannot emphasize enough the need for all of us to heed our Christian call to act charitably and respect those whose views and choices on these matters may differ from our own. Those who, out of care and concern for at-risk loved ones, continue to wear a mask should be treated with charity and respect -- just as charity and respect should be afforded to those who, for any number of reasons, have not been vaccinated. The reasons individuals and families choose to take such actions vary widely, and they are capable of coming to a prudential judgement about how best to respond to public health risks. We must resist the temptation to jump to conclusions that are unnecessarily polarizing, a temptation that, sadly, is all too common in the public discourse of our culture today. We would do well to keep in mind St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 4, that we should “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Throughout the past year, we have done our best to achieve the balance between protecting the common good while recognizing the great goods that come from being present, in relationship, with one another. We are social beings and can only flourish in common life with each other, and it is my sincere hope that by returning to a fall semester with limited COVID protocols, we can rebuild the bonds of trust and friendship that enable us to be fully human. As an institution, having weathered COVID outbreaks both here in Irving and in Rome, our experiences this past year have taught us how to shift and respond quickly should circumstances change. We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the COVID climate, and I am confident we will be able to adapt and do so again, should the need arise.

Let us pray in a special way for those individuals and families who have suffered or lost loved ones as a result of COVID. Let us also pray that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and that all may fully celebrate a return to normal campus life both here in Irving and in Rome, as we welcome a record number of first-year students to UD later this month.

Sincerely,
Pres Sanford Signature
Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D.
President
Professor of Philosophy