Members of the OSU Community,
I write to provide you several updates regarding OSU’s COVID-19 planning and response.
OSU continues to work through the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) on informing and supporting the Governor’s Office and the Oregon Health Authority on COVID-19 and vaccination issues specific to higher education.
OSU does not have the authority or discretion to determine vaccine eligibility for faculty, staff and students. However, we are working with HECC, other public universities, private colleges and universities, and community colleges statewide to assist OHA and our local counties in planning for the phased sequencing of vaccinations among higher education employees and students. This input is primarily occurring by estimating counts of categories of employees and students to be vaccinated, and providing communication to our respective communities.
OSU community members who are eligible to be vaccinated as part of 1a (health care, first responders, and other care providers), or the 1b Group 1 early learning and K-12 educators, or are 80 years old or above, are encouraged to seek a vaccine through their local county or regional health care system or other provider. Some counties will have access through local pharmacies as a new federal program goes into effect. These groups include approximately 2000 OSU community members, many of whom have already received their first dose.
University community members who become eligible for the vaccine in coming weeks because they qualify as members of subsequent groups within 1b – for example, those over the age of 65 – are also encouraged to seek a vaccine when they become eligible. We estimate that this includes approximately 500 OSU community members.
It is possible that OHA will choose to include some categories of college and university employees in the still-to-be-determined remainder of the 1b population of “critical workers in high-risk settings.” Those final decisions have not yet been made. Oregon post-secondary institutions are working with HECC to provide the Governor’s Office and OHA definitions and counts for position types that we deem as “critical workers in high-risk settings.” This would include approximately 6500 OSU community members. We will continue to provide you with updates on vaccine eligibility as defined by OHA and our local county health authorities. Do be aware that eligibility does not mean immediate access to vaccine. There will eventually be enough vaccine for everyone who wants one, but the supply of vaccine into the state has not met the demand. This should improve as federal allocations increase and more vaccines come on to the market.
Use the “Get Vaccinated Oregon” web-based tool to check vaccine eligibility and sign up for updates. You also can call 211; text ORCOVID to 898211; email [email protected]; or visit OHA’s COVID-19 vaccine website.
As anticipated, since the start of winter term, we have seen an increase in positive cases among students, specifically in congregate living environments.
Thanks to TRACE OSU’s testing capabilities, we are now testing all on-campus residential students in Corvallis, and starting next week in Bend, on a weekly basis. This has allowed OSU to quickly identify cases in the residence halls and to work with students to contain further transmission through quarantine and isolation protocols. To do the same in off-campus student congregate living environments, we are offering free weekly testing to students living off-campus who are members of fraternity or sorority programs. This testing strategy is what we have previously referenced as High Frequency Asymptomatic Screen-Testing (H-FAST). Meanwhile, randomized prevalence testing continues to be offered by invitation to other students, faculty and staff through TRACE OSU in Corvallis as well as at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. If you have not enrolled yet in TRACE OSU, please take a few minutes to do so now. OSU-Cascades has moved to H-FAST for residential students, and employees required to work on-site.
As you begin to think about plans for spring break, we urge you limit your travel to essential trips only. Minimizing travel is a critical measure in reducing the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19. The sooner we contain the spread of the virus, the sooner we can more safely return to more traditional levels of in-person and onsite university learning, student activities and faculty and staff activity. If you must travel, please adhere to the state of Oregon’s travel guidelines, including 14 day quarantine after arrival and return. Also, please note that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention issued an order requiring the use of face coverings by travelers (passengers and crew) on public transportation for interstate and international travel and at transportation hubs, including travel on interstate highways. OSU community members are expected to follow the law, even if travelling locally.
OSU is working closely with HECC and other colleges and universities to plan for fall. While each university will be using different levels of public health measures, higher education in Oregon shares the position that with the progression of vaccine availability and uptake, along with continued commitment to public health measures, such as masks, distancing, physical barriers and reduced density, containment protocols, and frequent testing, it is reasonable and prudent to begin planning to resume more traditional onsite and in-person activities for the 2021-22 academic year.
OSU’s Continuity Management Team is working with stakeholder groups to begin considering how OSU can make plans to hopefully resume in-person, onsite instruction in fall as the primary form of instructional delivery. This planning also would seek to create a pathway to resume more in-person and site-based research and fieldwork; increased in-person and onsite and co-extracurricular activities, as well as enable more students to live on campus. Resumption of these activities will be in alignment with all applicable state and federal requirements and guidelines, and of course, all of OSU’s planning is subject to change depending on the public health environment.
We recognize we may not have population level protection by the beginning of fall term. Yet, with the combination of vaccine distribution, frequent testing and other public health measures, we are optimistic we can get closer to a more traditional in-person experience.
To assure that OSU’s planning considers the latest in science and public health expertise, OSU and the University of Oregon will create a joint task force of health science and public health experts to evaluate public health measures being used, as well as recommend additional measures that can be taken to progress toward full onsite resumption. This task force is led by Dr. Javier Nieto, dean of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and will provide information that will be helpful for us to consider in our decisions on the timing of resumption, protection measures, and other considerations related to fall 2021 resumption of onsite instruction, research, and other activities at OSU and UO.
Thank you for continuing to remain patient and resilient, and most importantly, adhering to personal and public health measures in your studies, teaching, research, outreach, work within Oregon State University and residences. I look forward to joining you at the COVID-19 town hall on Thursday, March 4, at 10 a.m.
Coronavirus Response Coordinator
Vice Provost for Student Affairs