The past several months have challenged and changed us in ways that we could never have imagined. We had to transition quickly to remote operations, move classes online, suspend most laboratory research, and limit our dental and veterinary clinics to only essential emergency care. At the same time, members of our community have been deeply engaged in the vital national discussion over racial injustice against Black people and are developing concrete steps we can take to advance diversity, inclusion, and equity at Tufts.
Though some of our activities ramped down due to the pandemic, I have been inspired by what has ramped up—our creativity, our entrepreneurship, our compassion and commitment to justice, and our leadership in the world of higher education. In ways big and small, each member of our community has shown these characteristics. I believe it has been among our proudest moments as a university.
Now it is time for us to look forward. Some aspects of university life are already returning to more normal activity. Research operations have begun to resume in a carefully phased plan, the clinics at the School of Dental Medicine and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine have started expanding the number of clients they serve, and some students at our Boston Health Sciences and Grafton campuses have returned to continue their studies and clinical rotations.
Today, I’m pleased to share that the university’s fall semester undergraduate and graduate programs in the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering will begin on September 8 as scheduled, and our residential campus will be open. Courses across the Schools of Arts and Sciences and of Engineering will be available in in-person, virtual, and hybrid formats. Courses at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts will be held virtually with in-person access to facilities and studios.
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Dental Medicine, The Fletcher School, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Medicine, and University College have each developed distinct plans for their programs. Some schools and programs, due to the nature of their instruction or the global composition of their student body, have decided to move all classes online or postpone the beginning of formal instruction until January. Others will be adopting a hybrid approach in which some classes are in-person, some are both in-person and online, and others are conducted virtually. Some of these plans have already been shared with students in those schools and others will be provided in the coming days. A brief summary of each school’s plan—along with links for additional information—can be found on our COVID-19 website.
I want to thank the faculty, staff, and students in each of our schools for their tireless work over the past several months to develop plans that are appropriate for their courses of instruction, their student bodies, and their facilities. And I want to thank all of you for your patience as we determined the best path forward.
Our plans are being developed with the guidance of university and public health experts and informed by the work of the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group and Higher Education Testing Group, on which I have been honored to serve. As always, the health and safety of our community is our top priority. While we know that we will never be able to eliminate all risk, our goal is to reduce it as much as possible by introducing multiple layers of protection and asking each member of our community to remember their obligation to help protect the health of all members of our community.
Building on the experience we have gained as we have ramped up research, clinical, and educational activities this summer, we will be implementing social distancing guidelines, mask-wearing requirements, strict hygiene practices, health screenings, COVID testing, and contact tracing protocols. We will be reducing the density of classrooms and some residence halls and setting space aside for students who need to be in quarantine or isolation. For those students who are unable or choose not to be on campus in the fall, many classes will be taught online or in a hybrid manner. Our residential spaces will use a small-group model limiting close interactions to groups (residential cohorts) of 6 to 12 students, co-curricular activities will change, and our dining facilities will offer additional hours, locations, options to pre-order food, and a reservation system to reduce crowding.
I know that none of this will be easy. The success of this effort will require the cooperation of all members of our community. It will require each of us to change our typical behavior and rethink how we conduct our studies, our work, and our social lives. Though it will be difficult at times, it is necessary, and I have no doubt it will be worth it. Ultimately, I believe these plans can and will succeed because we are a community that cares greatly for each other and for this institution.
Though some things on campus will be different, our goal is to preserve as much of our campus experience as possible and support and strengthen the activities that make Tufts unique. I am grateful for the contributions of student leaders who have been working with us on plans for campus life in this new environment, and I look forward to their continued partnership moving forward. Together we can make this an extraordinary year.
What follows is a high-level summary of our plans; however, because of the range of schools that comprise our university and their varied programs and needs, more detailed information will follow soon from the schools with which students, faculty, and staff are affiliated.
I know that after reading this and the follow-up messages from your school, you will likely have many questions. We ask that you first check our COVID-19 website, our FAQ pages, and school-specific pages, where you will find answers to the most common questions. In some cases, we won’t yet have answers, and we ask for your patience as we develop plans in what will be the most complex undertaking in the university’s history.
I look forward to seeing you—whether in person or online—soon.
Highlights of our Return to Campus Plan
All people on each of Tufts’ campuses will be expected to wear face masks, whether inside buildings or outside, unless they are unable due to medical reasons. Students will be expected to wear masks throughout residence halls except in their own bedrooms.
Whenever possible, community members will be expected to observe six-foot social distancing guidelines, whether inside or outside. Spaces on each of our campuses, including classrooms and common spaces, will be marked with Healthy@Tufts signs to reinforce the necessity of maintaining the six-foot social distancing guideline.
Each day, all students, faculty, and staff will be expected to fill out a short online or smartphone app-based self-diagnosis questionnaire before coming to campus or leaving residence halls to inform them about whether they should remain at home/in their dorm room rather than coming to campus.
We will be implementing a three-part COVID-19 testing program [PDF] informed by the Higher Education Testing Group’s report. Our expectation is that will include: (1) initial testing of students upon their return to campus to begin the fall semester, (2) regular surveillance testing of students as well as student-facing faculty and staff to identify asymptomatic carriers, and (3) rapid diagnostic testing of those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
In cases of potential exposure to COVID-19 on campus, contact tracing staff will reach out to individuals who were potentially exposed. Without identifying the source of the potential exposure, staff will inform individuals of the nature of the potential exposure and advise them on appropriate next steps, including staying at home/in their dorm room, monitoring for symptoms, and seeking health care if necessary. Individuals who may have been exposed will receive regular follow-up contact to check their health status and ensure that they have access to testing and any needed medical care. (Public health officials will conduct any contact tracing for individuals who are not Tufts students, faculty, or staff.)
Wall-mounted or free-standing hand sanitation dispensers will be installed at each building entrance and outside all common-area restrooms throughout all academic, research, and administrative buildings on each of our campuses. Paper towel and soap dispensers will be installed in all common-area and residential bathrooms.
Based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in consultation with the Tufts Medical Committee, we are following guidelines provided by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers to review and confirm compliance of our HVAC systems across all buildings.
We will be increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting throughout our campuses. All common-area restrooms—including in residence halls—will be cleaned and disinfected twice daily. All other common spaces will be cleaned and disinfected twice daily with roving crews disinfecting high-touch points throughout the day.
The university will supply the materials required to enable students, faculty, and staff to fulfill their responsibilities of keeping themselves and others protected throughout the spaces that they occupy, including personal spaces, desks, lecterns, classroom workspaces, etc.
Small-Group Residential Strategy
Tufts will be adopting a “small-group” model for our residence halls, which will limit close interactions to a group (residential cohort) of between 6 and 12 students. Though masks and social distancing are not required in shared bedrooms, they will be expected even within the small groups and in the restroom facilities to which the groups will be assigned. Visits between small groups will be allowed but should be limited to very few individuals at a time and should include distancing and masks. We also will be designating residential space for medically vulnerable students to address their specific needs.
Managing Positive Cases
Even though we will be adopting multiple layers of protection to reduce risk, we anticipate that some cases of COVID-19 will emerge. In such an eventuality, students diagnosed with COVID-19 will be housed in modular residential units that we plan to set up on the Medford/Somerville campus before the start of the semester, while the other members of their residential cohort will go into quarantine in their existing residential spaces. We are working with the cities of Medford and Somerville to ensure that these temporary residential modular units meet the same health, safety, and security requirements as our traditional residence halls.
Additional information about the small-group residential strategy, including how it will affect housing assignments, will be communicated by the Office of Residential Life and Learning soon.
We anticipate dining locations on each of our campuses will be open, with most locations providing a pre-order option for quick pick-up service. In addition, several new “pop-up” dining locations will be available on our Medford/Somerville campus to meet demand and reduce density during peak periods. Meal swipes will be allowed at all campus dining locations. To reduce crowding, access to Carmichael and Dewick-MacPhie dining centers will be by reservation. We will adhere to all Massachusetts and local health guidelines and limit seating at outdoor dining to six people per table. As a result, all dining services will be takeout; we will evaluate and adjust our dining plans as health guidance changes.
The academic calendar for the School of Arts and Sciences (including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts) and the School of Engineering will remain unchanged, with classes beginning on September 8 and ending on December 11. We will be prepared to implement changes should the need arise as determined by university and government health officials. The move-in period will be extended to allow for testing and to reduce the number of students moving in each day. More information about the move-in process will be shared in follow-up communications from the Office of Residential Life and Learning.
In all classrooms, six-foot social distancing guidelines will be followed, and masks will be required. Due to these guidelines, the occupancy of our classrooms and lecture halls will be reduced. Most classes with 50 or more students will be conducted remotely, while some will be split into smaller sections. Because some students will not be able to return to campus, whenever possible classes will be conducted in a hybrid format to allow students to participate remotely. Shared SMFA studio facilities will be open to students by appointment, to allow for reduced capacities while providing the freedom to make work. Private SMFA studios will be accessible as usual.
Civic and Community Engagement
Students from across the university (and in particular through the leadership of Tisch College of Civic Life) participate in civic and community activities and service learning, working closely with local organizations. Protocols will be developed that allow these activities to continue and conform to university guidelines.
Athletics, Fitness, and Recreation
We are working closely with our NESCAC partners, public health officials, and the NCAA to determine how and when it will be safe for varsity sport student-athletes, coaches, and staff to return to practice and competition. Competitive club sports and intramurals have been suspended for the fall semester.
The fitness center will be open subject to new safety protocols, and most outdoor athletic facilities will be available for use. In addition, our athletic staff is working to expand e-sports and non-contact, low-risk recreation activities in the fall.
Libraries will be open for study at reduced capacity in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Plans are being developed for contactless borrowing and return of library materials.
The Tufts University Art Galleries are planning limited-access academic programming and new exhibitions for the fall as well as robust virtual programming and artists talks.
More information about school-specific plans will be communicated soon. For more information on our return to campus plans, more detailed information on all of these topics, extensive frequently asked questions, and contact info for more information, please visit go.tufts.edu/coronavirus.