With the Tufts class of 2020 set to become graduates this weekend, we enter a new phase of our COVID-19 planning. But before looking forward, I want to take a moment to reflect on what we have achieved together. Over the past 10 weeks, we have transitioned our spring and summer courses to distance learning, provided academic and administrative support remotely, and established partnerships with local hospitals, municipalities, and community groups that helped combat the spread of the coronavirus and respond to the needs that the pandemic has created. Throughout, we have supported each other, and I believe these past months will rank among Tufts’ proudest. I want to thank each of you for helping to make our efforts possible. The light on the hill is shining brightly to illuminate a path forward during these challenging times.
Looking ahead, I want to provide an update on our planning for re-opening our clinical operations, ramping up research, resuming on-campus administrative operations, and starting the fall semester. In each of our schools and divisions, extensive planning is ongoing to determine how and when we can repopulate our on-campus operations. The health and safety of the community is at the forefront of this planning process, which is now being overseen by an integrated planning committee co-chaired by Vice Provost Kevin Dunn and Vice President for Information Technology Christopher Sedore, and composed of the deans of all the university’s schools and other senior administrators.
As plans firm up, we will continue to communicate with you, but I want to share where we are today.
Clinics and Research
The first parts of the university to repopulate will likely be our clinical and research operations. The clinics associated with Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Dental Medicine, which have continued to be open for emergency and essential services only, will likely begin phased re-openings later this month or in early June to provide services to their patients.
In both schools, the repopulation of the clinics will be done carefully and in close coordination with public health experts. Students, residents, faculty, and staff will also adopt new safety protocols. For example, at the Dental School, patients will be screened before entering and wear masks and maintain distancing, even in elevators. At Cummings School’s hospitals and clinics, clients will be required to drop off and pick up animals from their vehicles, rather than enter clinic buildings.
Just as our clinical operations didn’t shut down entirely, the university’s on-campus research operations have continued, though in a significantly curtailed fashion. The university and schools are now implementing plans to gradually ramp up operations in order to fulfill our research mission, prevent the loss of the strong research base we have built over the years, and remain competitive for critical funding. We are working with research deans at the schools to ensure school-specific safety guidelines are in place; additional updates will be made by each school at the appropriate time. We anticipate the first of three phases of research ramp-up to begin in early June, though schools may vary in their implementation timeline. During this phase, strict social distancing and safety guidelines will be followed. Research workforce in shared laboratories will likely return in staggered shifts to reduce the density of researchers. Masks and physical distancing will be required, and more intensive cleaning protocols will be developed and implemented.
The Fall Semester
We expect to begin our fall semester on schedule, and our goal is to resume on-campus teaching at that time to the greatest extent possible. However, the uncertain trajectory of the pandemic may require us to consider multiple modes of teaching including the possibility of a hybrid model in which some programs or individual courses are taught in person, some remotely, and some in a dual format. We recognize that this is a question of intense interest and assure you that detailed plans will be shared as they are developed.
Among the major issues we’re actively assessing with expert guidance are:
How to balance the desire for the traditional residential experience with the necessary social distancing guidelines and limitations on large-group gatherings to reduce risk of exposure to the virus
How to set up our campuses so we can properly implement health screening and protocols to monitor and treat those who become sick, and quarantine those who have been exposed
How to continue providing a high-quality education in an environment that, even under the most optimistic circumstances, will require some students to be off-campus or out of the classroom
Whether specific requirements of the academic programs at our graduate schools would require a different schedule
How to implement reliable testing and contact tracing for our campus community as appropriate
While health and safety are of utmost importance, we also want to ensure that the sense of community that is a hallmark of the Tufts experience will continue to thrive. A committee on community building and social life is exploring creative ways to re-imagine traditions and strengthen campus life even under the constraints that may be imposed by the pandemic.
I am grateful to all our staff who have done remarkable work throughout the crisis, particularly those whose jobs have required them to come to campus each day. As we begin planning the ramp up of our on-campus activities, we need to consider when our staff, most of whom have been working remotely since mid-March and many of whom have faced increased personal responsibilities, will return to campus. Similar to other emerging plans described above, staff will likely come back in a phased manner based on the type of work being done. When staff do return to campus, there will be notable changes, including screening procedures, guidelines on social distancing and the use of masks, and restrictions on in-person meetings. New cleaning and sanitation procedures will also be implemented to reduce risk of infection in the workplace.
More information specifically about our planning for staff members will be coming shortly in a communication from Executive Vice President Mike Howard.
Thank you for all your efforts during these challenging times.