Howard University Fall Re-opening Update

Contributed by Howard Newsroom Staff

Dear Howard University Community,

After consultation with our public health faculty experts, District of Columbia officials, University leadership, and monitoring the status of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, regionally and nationally, we have made the very difficult decision to move all undergraduate courses for the Fall 2020 semester fully online, and non-residential. The residence halls will be closed, with the exception of The Axis, which is apartment living.

When I formed the Re-opening Taskforce several months ago, we stated that the paramount consideration for re-opening would be the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and entire campus community. This has remained the most significant consideration. Nationally, we continue to see COVID-19 cases rise, with an increasing infection rate among young people. We have also grown more painfully aware of the disparate impact of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths among people of color, with particular devastation on the Black community. Unfortunately, the stark realities of the current state of the pandemic, District requirement that students from hot spot states would fully quarantine for 14 days, and challenges to safely get students to campus from throughout the nation and around the world without creating additional exposure and risk, have proven overwhelming. While the DMV region has generally fared better than other areas around the country, more than 40% of our undergraduate students come from a state that is currently listed as a hot spot state, thus requiring 14 days of quarantine upon arrival to campus. This is already a difficult challenge to manage, but is additionally complicated as the list of hot spot states is updated frequently. We are rescinding all housing assignments for students who were planning to reside in our residence halls this Fall. In recognition that some of our students have hardships that do not allow them to be successful in an online academic setting, we will provide assistance to them on a case by case basis. The Axis, an apartment living complex close to campus will remain open. We will continue to stand up the on-site, CLIA certified testing laboratory for the free use of the campus community.

I want to especially thank the members of the Re-opening Taskforce who have worked assiduously to create a plan that was comprehensive, thoughtful and detailed. Indeed, District officials praised the thoroughness of the plan, which is a compliment to the work of the entire Taskforce. In fact, it is the elements of that plan that have highlighted the challenges that we would face in bringing a significant number of students safely back to campus. We have required that all students present to campus with a negative COVID-19 test within the seven days prior to return to campus. Many students and families have indicated their inability to either obtain a COVID-19 test in their area, or are in states where results are taking up to 14 days to obtain. As noted previously, we have established our own internal COVID-19 laboratory which will be fully operational next week. However, the 200 rooms that we have identified as isolation rooms for any students who have a positive test result could quickly be filled if we are unable to identify positive cases prior to their arrival on campus. We have also considered the recent decisions of other academic institutions in the Consortium who have likewise opted to offer undergraduate instruction fully online, as their availability of course offerings and facilities impact our students also.

We will focus our efforts on assuring that the online experience for undergraduate students remains rich and continues to prepare our students for leadership in various fields. Our faculty have continued to participate in online training and course development. Further, we have hired additional staff, and are incorporating software that will aid in the implementation of a fully virtual academic experience for undergraduate students. As the District approved our Re-opening Plan earlier this week, we will plan to slowly return key staff and researchers back to campus in a phased, responsible manner. Mandatory online COVID-19 training is currently available, and we will continue to require that all faculty and staff who will be on campus must have a negative COVID-19 test result within seven days of their return to campus.

Many of our graduate and professional programs and courses will also be provided online, either primarily, or fully. While many of our health professional didactic courses will be online, the clinical training components will be conducted face-to-face, secondary to accreditation and licensure requirements. Students in those programs will be provided additional details by the deans of the health professional schools regarding the program requirements, safety protocols and other advisement. A decision regarding the format of instruction for Spring 2021 will be made at a later point in the Fall semester, as we receive additional data and information.

Thank you again for your patience as we have made every effort to be flexible and accommodate the needs of our students, faculty, and staff. We ask for your continued patience, flexibility and support as we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our most precious asset, the lives of all members of the Howard University Community.

Excellence in Truth and Service,

Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA