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Faculty Guide to COVID-19

September 2021 was envisioned as a celebratory return to campus; we planned to embark on travel to conference presentations, hold in-person meetings in our research labs, enjoy a stable K-12 school environment and maybe even join colleagues at after-work get-togethers. Instead, September and the delta variant ushered in uncertainty, as cases of COVID-19 increased on campus, locally, regionally and nationally. We have been able to enjoy some of the celebratory activities, while others have been modified and some are on hold for now. This isn’t the September that many of us imagined, though it may prove pivotal as we chart the 2021-2022 school year.

Our mission states, “William & Mary convenes great minds and hearts to meet the most pressing needs of our time.” In this pivotal moment, W&M convenes an intellectual community to support the core components that advance our mission. Learning in the company of others is an experience that both faculty and students have called on W&M to prioritize. Many faculty members successfully taught in person throughout the 2020-2021 school year, and we have learned from their successes. To benefit from those successes, the William & Mary Public Health Advisory Team has developed this guide to help faculty continue to benefit from our convened community.

General Guidance

Considering all that W&M has learned about COVID-19 and its delta variant, we know that layered prevention strategies work. With COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory at William & Mary, by September 2021, W&M recorded a 93% vaccination rate among students and 90% for faculty and staff. Considering only students living and studying on-campus, the vaccination rate is higher, at 96%. To support a layered approach of vaccination and masking, W&M also requires masks indoors in shared public spaces unless eating or drinking.

Studies have considered the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the classroom. The research is limited, but the evolving science indicates the widespread use of masks in schools can effectively prevent COVID-19 transmission and provide a safe learning environment. The combination of vaccination and masking affords the most important and effective intervention to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom. Ventilation and physical distancing are secondary mitigation strategies that can be employed when available.

Classroom Guidance

William & Mary faculty members frequently handle student absences due to illness, both short-term and long. Students who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate and not attend in-person classes for 10 days. W&M students who have tested positive have been presenting, at most, with mild symptoms that are generally allowing them to keep up with the academic work. We recognize that some faculty experienced a significant percentage of students missing from some courses, which requires additional adjustments.

If a student contacts you because they have been asked to quarantine or isolate, please work with that student as you would with any student who has to miss class for a short period of time due to illness. If you have a group of students who are out, consider recording lectures and/or using other means to provide instructional content. All public classrooms are equipped with lecture-recording technology, which you may want to use if you have students who you know will be out. The Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation and W&M Information Technology can also help optimize Blackboard as you adapt to students needing additional access outside of the classroom or class lab. 

In the classroom, instructors are empowered to set additional guidelines, such as not allowing food or drink. Faculty members should require students to follow proper masking protocols in class.

Process for Students

William & Mary has developed a case management system to help students navigate a COVID-19 diagnosis and transition into isolation or quarantine. If students test positive for COVID-19 or are identified as a close contact, they must visit ReportCOVID.wm.edu to establish contact with a case manager. Case managers explain the process to students and notify those who meet the criteria for close contacts. Faculty should refer students with questions about whether they might meet the criteria for a close contact to ReportCOVID.wm.edu

  • Symptomatic close contacts test immediately for COVID-19 and should not attend classes or in-person activities pending receipt of test results.
  • Vaccinated close contacts, consistent with CDC guidelines, do not need to quarantine if they remain asymptomatic. They may continue to attend classes and in-person activities, and should use extra diligence in wearing a mask whenever they are in close proximity to other people. They test for COVID-19 between days 5-7 after their exposure to the person who tested positive.
  • Close contacts who are not yet vaccinated need to quarantine for 10 days if they remain asymptomatic. They may not attend class or in-person activities. They test for COVID-19 twice: once upon learning they are a close contact and again between days 5-7 after their exposure to the person who tested positive. If they test positive, they will need to isolate for 10 days from the time symptoms appeared or they received a positive test result.
  • Students who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for 10 days or until they have no symptoms, whichever is later. They may not attend class or in-person activities. Visit Case Management & Isolation Housing to learn more. They cannot test out of isolation if they received a prior positive result.
Student Privacy

Please respect the privacy of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been identified as a close contact. Please do not share with the class that a fellow student is in quarantine or isolation, nor make testing or other recommendations based on that information. The primary reason faculty are informed if a student is in quarantine or isolation is not because they constitute a close contact of the student, but to be able to support the student’s academic progress while they are unable to participate in person.

Teaching Settings & Flexibility

William & Mary has committed to offering as many in-person classes as possible during the 2021-2022 school year. However, some courses may be fully or partially remote, either for medical exemptions or unique temporary personal circumstances, as determined by the relevant dean’s office. Many classes have remote pieces – some have significant remote components, and a few are entirely remote.

Faculty members are encouraged – not required – to add remote options, in addition to in-person teaching, to help accommodate absent students. The Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation offers many resources, including student partners, technology assistance and workshops and a Teaching Flexibility Guide that is invaluable in planning and adaptation.

Accommodating Student Absences

The dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences offered this plan as a suggestion, not a requirement, for how faculty members may provide student access while they are isolating or under quarantine: 

  • Lectures: If lectures for the course have been recorded in the past (even if taught by another instructor or with a slightly different syllabus), consider making them available on the course’s Blackboard site as a resource to students with the caveat that they are a course tool and not the course itself. Ensure before doing so that permission has been obtained from the instructor (if different) and that the recording does not implicate the privacy interests of any student or other individual captured in the recording.
  • Groups: If the course involves significant group work, encourage the absent student to engage with their group via Zoom, email or Google Docs in order to lessen disruption to assignments.
  • Materials: Students can have access to current class materials, including slides, with class sessions recorded and shared using technology such as Panopto or even a cell phone recording. In some classes, students may be able to Zoom or FaceTime a classmate to be present.
  • Notes: Identify a set of students attending class who are willing to share their notes and create a space on Blackboard for them to do so. Students may also be willing to answer questions about the material via email or Zoom.
  • Office Hours: Hold office hours remotely with absent students to address additional questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a policy on how faculty members should help students in quarantine or isolation?

Faculty members should apply the processes they use when any student is unable to attend class for roughly 10 days due to illness.

How do I conduct my in-person activities via Zoom? I don’t know how to teach some remotely and some in person.
You do not have to do this; you can instead accommodate absent students through other methods described in this document, such as recording class. If you do want more information on teaching in this mode, you may visit the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation for resources and the studio’s Teaching Flexibility Guide.
Some students seem unconcerned about my health or that of my family members. Any suggestions?

Faculty members have had success in facilitating a class discussion centered around Know Your Number, the useful communication framework developed by Carrie Dolan, W&M epidemiologist and assistant professor in Kinesiology & Health Sciences. The discussion helps the class understand how to respect each other’s concerns and attitudes during the pandemic. Email [[cbdolan]] for more information.

I have family members who cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions or because they are children under 12. I’m scared I will bring COVID-19 home to them.

The university understands that there are particular concerns for employees who live with people who are not yet vaccinated. William & Mary is actively monitoring COVID-19 among our population and is not seeing COVID-19 cases attributable to standard class activities. We are also not seeing the increase in transmission to faculty members or staff that could be expected if classroom transmission was occurring. Instead, student COVID-19 transmission is attributed to unmasked social settings. That said, the university prioritizes health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic; if there are special circumstances that need to be considered for teaching in person, please contact your dean’s office.

What if I contract COVID-19 and must isolate? Or if I am the primary caretaker for a family member who tested positive and is in isolation? Or if my children have to quarantine?
Just as W&M students may miss class due to COVID-19 or other health or family reasons, so might faculty members. Your dean’s office can help you with processes to handle your absence. We also have tools to continue to offer courses remotely, if you are able. Contact your chair or dean’s office first, and visit the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation for resources and the studio’s Teaching Flexibility Guide.
What if a student in my course is identified as a close contact?
In-person classes may continue. The student should visit ReportCovid.wm.edu to record their contact, arrange testing and be assigned a case manager. If the student is vaccinated and asymptomatic, there is no quarantine requirement, per the CDC guidelines. They may continue in-person classes and activities. If the student is not yet vaccinated or is experiencing symptoms, they will quarantine for at least 10 days and will not attend classes.
What if a student in my course tests positive? 

In-person classes may continue. The student must visit ReportCovid.wm.edu to be assigned a case manager and will isolate for 10 days. They may not attend classes.

The student says they are a close contact or are COVID-19-positive, but are coming to class anyway. What should I do?

Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine if they are asymptomatic; they may attend class and other in-person activities, per the CDC guidelines. COVID-19-positive students and close contacts who are not yet fully vaccinated are not allowed to attend class during the 10-day isolation or quarantine  period. If a COVID-19-positive student attends during that time frame, please ask the student to leave and contact [[HealthyTogether]].

Should I notify my class if I’m aware a student has tested positive?

No, you should not, just as you would not announce any other student illness. That is personal health information that the entire class does not need to know. With everyone in the classroom properly masked, the risk of transmission is very low. Students who meet the criteria for a close contact will be notified by case management and provided detailed advice on the appropriate response based on their individual situation. A broad announcement complicates that process and risks the spread of misinformation.

How is a student cleared to return to class after quarantine or isolation?

COVID-19-positive students and close contacts who are not yet fully vaccinated must isolate or quarantine for 10 days, and are not allowed to attend class during that period. Both groups are advised by case managers of when they can resume in-person activities.

Vaccinated close contacts do not need to be cleared if they are asymptomatic; they do not need to quarantine and may attend class and other in-person activities, per the CDC guidelines. They should properly wear masks in accordance with W&M’s masking requirements. If they become symptomatic, they should stop attending in-person classes and activities and test for COVID-19.

Why is W&M prioritizing contact tracing in social settings?

William & Mary is prioritizing contact tracing in areas where the data indicate there is high transmission. At this time, transmission is occurring in unmasked social settings. The Public Health Advisory Team monitors patterns of transmission on a daily basis. If the data indicate we need to prioritize another group, then W&M will reconsider its approach. Masks worked at William & Mary before vaccines were available; add a highly vaccinated population and the risk of classroom transmission is at present very low.

Are the cases we are seeing primarily in vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals?

W&M is seeing cases primarily in vaccinated individuals. Given that at least 96% of the on-campus student population is vaccinated, it is not surprising that cases are greatest in that population.

What is the range of severity of symptoms?

Symptoms fortunately have been mild and have not required hospitalization. Many students report feeling better within a few days. (Before vaccines were available, it was weeks.)

Can HEART funds be used to support student housing for isolation?

HEART (Health, Emergencies and Resources for the Tribe) and other funds are available for students who need financial assistance with quarantine and isolation housing. W&M is also covering up to two nights’ stay at a hotel for students who need the space as a “bridge” before heading home or to another off-campus location. Visit Case Management and Isolation Housing for more information.

Why doesn’t William & Mary do a round of census testing?

Every student, faculty and staff member who is not yet fully vaccinated (defined as two weeks after a final dose in a series) is tested for COVID-19 every week. This is designed to quickly respond to the population that would have the most severe outcomes from a COVID-19 diagnosis.

The Public Health Advisory Team continually assesses the appropriate response to the COVID-19 situation on campus, including the levels and types of testing. Case numbers with faculty and staff remain exceedingly low; they are higher within the student population, attributable to unmasked social settings. Additionally, there is emerging science that suggests wide-scale census testing of vaccinated people with PCR tests may not be the most appropriate course and may result in an overstatement of positive cases. The Public Health Advisory Team continues to evaluate the best testing options and will recommend changes as warranted.