January 28, 2021
Dear Tulane Community:
When we began the fall semester, it was our sincere hope that we could scale back some restrictions over time after we’d conducted our return testing. However, over the past few days we have seen an increase in positive COVID-19 test results among our undergraduate student population – both those living on and off campus. With this note, we are announcing several new temporary restrictions designed to limit the spread of this infection. It is our goal to see this surge quickly clear so that we can return to our standard COVID protocols and practices.
We know that the vast majority of our students, faculty and staff are closely following university and city guidelines, and we appreciate your hard work and dedication. However, we have also received reports of student conduct violations regarding COVID-19 safety protocols, including large groups of unmasked students congregating in local bars and off-campus parties. These are the most obvious, and distressing, sources of the current increase in positive cases. Any students who are found to have violated safety protocols, both on or off campus, will face disciplinary action that could include suspension or expulsion.
Last semester, we also had periods of elevated positive cases that were detected through our aggressive surveillance testing program – this is what the program is designed to do. But, as important as swiftly identifying and isolating positive cases and quarantining close contacts is to preventing spread, we also need to adapt our behaviors. This is especially important with new, more contagious variants of the virus spreading. While our overall positivity rates remain below that of the city and the state, we know that we must do all that we can to promote a safe environment for our community and for New Orleans.
To highlight both the seriousness of this moment and the need to double our vigilance to get ahead of this trend, Tulane is enacting the following protocols for two weeks – effective immediately. We will closely monitor our numbers and, if they come down quickly, we may reevaluate these restrictions before the conclusion of the two-week period.
To aggressively address this increase in positive cases, we are strongly encouraging students to limit unnecessary interactions. Apart from classes, dining and essential activities, students should limit themselves to their residence halls and off-campus residences. Yesterday, the City of New Orleans announced a shift to Modified Phase 2 (effective Friday at 6 a.m.), which expands capacity restrictions from 25% to 50% for businesses – excluding bars – and allows for gatherings of 10 or less indoors, and 25 or less outdoors. Students must adhere to these gathering size restrictions, as well as all health protocols including social distancing when around others and masking at all times except when alone in a room. Visitors and overnight guests are not permitted in any residential halls.
Classes will still be conducted in person – the city has identified both classrooms and office settings as an exception to Modified Phase 2 capacity and gathering size restrictions. This approach is also supported by recent findings, our own experience and that of other universities, which provide clear indications that classrooms with adherence to public health protocols are not the source of COVID transmission. All in-person student programs – including student organization events – outside of classes will be cancelled, rescheduled or redesigned in light of these new restrictions. Virtual events can still occur.
These restrictions do not affect staffing on campus. Following our current guidelines, we encourage all units to continue to find ways to allow non-essential employees to work from home as much as their assigned responsibilities allow. New Orleans Public Schools have also announced that schools will resume daily, in-person classes on Monday for students in preK-4th grade and a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for students in 5th-8th grades, with specific schedules varying by school.
We are continuing the return testing protocol through which we test undergraduate students three times per week. We are also closely monitoring cases among graduate students and employees to determine if increased testing frequency may also be needed for these groups.
To enhance distancing in common areas, off-campus students are restricted to dining at The Dining Pavilion, and all students are encouraged to use to-go options when possible.
Intramural sports are suspended, and Brown Field is closed.
Fan attendance at all athletic contests is suspended immediately until further notice.
It is imperative that each individual in our community take full responsibility for their actions and adhere to all of these protocols. We recognize that this is a difficult time for everyone, but with COVID-19 vaccines now available, the eventual end to the pandemic is more clearly in focus. This should give us all hope but also serve as a reminder that this is no time to relax our vigilance.
In addition to enhanced safety protocols, the key to the success of Tulane's COVID-19 response is to test often, swiftly identify cases and isolate positives and quarantine close contacts. This approach was very effective in preventing the spread of the virus at Tulane last semester. We were able to respond rapidly to each of our three surges, in each case bringing the infection back down to much lower, safer and more manageable levels. With your help, we will stop this current increase in its tracks and continue this semester successfully and safely for Tulane and for New Orleans.
Michael A. Fitts, President
Patrick Norton, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Robin Forman, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost