Compliance Is Key to Successful Campus Opening, University Leaders Say

At a town hall meeting for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering students and their families, Tufts protocols for safety and testing are detailed
Colorful fall foliage on Tufts campus with students walking in front of library. At a town hall meeting for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering students and their families, Tufts leaders say compliance is key to successful campus opening
Tufts in the fall of 2015. “A lot of the way this semester will go will depend on our collective compliance and how we look after each other, but I have great faith and confidence in our community,” said President Anthony Monaco. Photo: Alonso Nichols
August 19, 2020

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With cooperation from students and adherence to protocols for safety, Tufts will have a successful fall semester, university officials said on August 18 at a town hall for Arts and Sciences, SMFA, and Engineering students and their families.

“I’m really excited about having you back,” said President Anthony Monaco. “A lot of the way this semester will go will depend on our collective compliance and how we look after each other, but I have great faith and confidence in our community.”

Monaco outlined the essentials: always wearing masks on campus, maintaining six feet physical distance whenever possible, completing the daily symptom tracker, following the surveillance testing program rigorously (twice a week for undergraduates on or off campus, and once a week for graduate students), and no gatherings of 10 or more people on or off campus. Compliance is key to everyone’s safety, Monaco emphasized.

Tufts expects to perform 18,500 tests per week, with a turnaround of approximately 24 hours by the Broad Institute in Cambridge. (Detailed information about testing is available online.) The early testing has been successful, Monaco said, with more than 1,500 people tested on Tufts campuses in the past two weeks—and no positive cases.

For most of the town hall presentation, which was moderated by Hannah Smokelin, A23, senior administrators addressed questions submitted by students and their families, starting with those about compliance and consequences. (A recording will be available for viewing at https://coronavirus.tufts.edu.)

“This is a shared community responsibility,” said Associate Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Kraft. The extensive protocols for safety will only work “if we get good robust compliance.”

A key question is how students will be held accountable when they don’t comply with the guidelines such as wearing a mask, keeping physical distance, and not having large gatherings. “There will be consequences when you don’t wear a mask or show up for your test,” Kraft said. “What those consequences are will vary depending on the severity of the violation.”

Forgetting a mask the first time is a low-level situation, warranting only a warning. However, having a party with a lot of people who are not wearing masks—a very serious public health concern—“would result in very serious consequences that could even lead a person to being asked to leave Tufts.”

“We’re trying to get to a situation where the enforcement is not punitively based,” Kraft said. “We’re trying to get into an environment where the community holds each other accountable.” The Student Affairs Office will have student COVID-19 education teams walking around campus the first few weeks of class, including at night, and giving masks to people who are not wearing them. “Those are positive, peer-led interactions—not negative confrontations with authorities,” Kraft said.

“My general experience is that most Tufts students are responsible people who want to do the right thing,” he said.

He also noted that in a survey of students about social norms in the COVID-19 era, 16 percent have already experienced disagreements with roommates about COVID, and 46 percent anticipate such conflict. A student-advisory group will be creating a social norms campaign to help address these concerns and interactions, he said, and residential life staff are keenly aware of the issue.

Michelle Bowdler, executive director of health and wellness services, gave detailed answers to questions about testing, and what happens if students test positive. The university has 222 temporary modular units that will allow students who test positive to isolate, while being monitored by clinicians at the nearby Health Service.

Detailed protocols have been established for all students coming to Tufts; all students must first check in with Residential Life at the Gantcher Center, and take their first test before moving into their residential halls. The level of quarantine depends if students are in-region (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey) or out of region. Those who are from out of region will need three negative tests before leaving quarantine—a standard far greater than Massachusetts requires.

While some other universities that opened early in August have seen spikes in cases and subsequently moved students off-campus or classes online, such as the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame, those universities are not doing both onboard testing and comprehensive asymptomatic surveillance testing, which is a pillar of Tufts’ plan. Tufts also has the advantage of not beginning classes until September 8, meaning “we are able to learn some lessons from our colleagues,” said James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

On the positive side, he said that Tulane, Miami, and Syracuse, for example, had very low rates of incoming students with positive rates, and other universities have reported high levels of mask-wearing compliance.

Answering a question about academic help for students who might become ill, Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering,  said that “even before COVID, we have had many processes in place to help students when they are sick.” Faculty will be flexible with deadlines, tests, and grading, he said, noting that students’ first resource is their academic advising dean who will guide them on their options should they become ill. 

Joshua Hartman, director of Residential Life, also shared the extensive plans in place to help students at all phases of their time on campus, from first arrival to daily life as the semester progresses—including those living off campus.

Addressing the students in the audience, Hartman said “this is on all of us who are members of this community. . . You’re in college and there’s a level of autonomy, and independence that you’re given in this space. But we’re hoping that all Tufts students will come here with a level of care and concern for the community around them.”

For more information and answers to commonly asked questions related to COVID-19, go to https://coronavirus.tufts.edu.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.