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University to return to in-person classes in phases starting Wednesday

| Friday, August 28, 2020

Notre Dame will return to in-person classes in a gradual process beginning Wednesday, University President Fr. John Jenkins said in an address Friday.

Courses in the 10000 and 20000 families will begin in-person meetings Wednesday, and deans and department chairs may choose to restart additional classes on the same day, an email following the address said. All other courses will restart in-person Sept. 7.

Jenkins urged students to wear masks, maintain physical distance and wash their hands. He also asked students to continue completing their daily health checks and come in to get surveillance tested when asked.

“We must do these things if we are to have a safe and successful semester on campus,” Jenkins said.

Though Jenkins emphasized a few student gatherings as the initial source of infections in his last address, he said he did not intend on shifting blame solely to these students. Students who violate health precautions will be subject to the University conduct process.

“Currently, hearings for 87 students are in process involving violations of varying levels of gravity,” Jenkins said.

Despite the difficult start to the semester, Jenkins said he is tremendously proud of staff, faculty and students.

“The virus dealt us a bow and we stumbled, but we steadied ourselves,” Jenkins said.

University provost Marie Lynn Miranda and executive vice president Shannon Cullinan sent an email to the community following Jenkins’ virtual address.

“Based on a suite of different data streams, we believe we have gotten past the surge that occurred last week,” they said in the email. “We have better systems in place for detecting and quickly reacting to new cases in ways that are allowing us to contain the spread of the virus on campus. We have adapted and invested more resources to ensure we deliver the care that you are accustomed to at Notre Dame.”

The overall positivity rate stands at 10.8% since Aug. 3, and the positivity rate from Aug. 20 to 25 is 6.3%. The surveillance testing positivity rate is 0.8% after the University conducted more than 1,400 tests. In addition, the number of students with major COVID-19 symptoms has decreased.

“Please note that not all of these cases turn out to be COVID-19,” Miranda and Cullinan said. “There is definitely something else with flu-like symptoms going around, which is typical for the start of the academic year.”

Serena Zacharias | The Observer

University President Fr. John Jenkins announces the gradual return to in-person classes beginning Sept 3.

The number of students leaving quarantine is also larger than the number of students moving into quarantine.

Case numbers may increase in the next few days though, the email said. The surge of cases between Aug. 17 through Aug. 19 generated a number of close contacts in quarantine and isolation currently. Students in quarantine undergo a PCR test on Day 4, and if that is positive they are isolated. If the test is negative, they remain in quarantine, and the University conducts a rapid antigen test on Day 7. If the Day 7 test results negative, the student is released.

As the University begins Day 4 and Day 7 quarantine tests on close contacts from the beginning of the Aug. 17-19 peak, the number of positives results are expected to increase, as the positivity rate is higher among quarantined students.

“Importantly, these students have all been in quarantine, so should not be contributing to further spread of the virus,” the email said.

The University has added additional staff at the testing center in order to conduct more tests and “create more redundancy across various roles.” While the contact tracing team now currently consists of 15 people, Miranda and Cullinan acknowledge that the early surge in cases stressed Notre Dame’s contact tracing efforts.

In addition, the University added a 20-person Care and Wellness Team to make daily calls to students in quarantine and isolation. Over the last month, Notre Dame added hundreds of quarantine and isolation spaces, with “the ability to add more if necessary.”

“We also have a talented team making sure our students in Quarantine/Isolation are well taken care of including their meals,” the email said. “We have also improved WiFi coverage to ensure connectivity to their classes.”

Additional staff has been hired in University Health Services to respond to calls and make it easier for faculty and staff to get tested.

Notre Dame confirmed 12 new COVID-19 cases Thursday after performing 409 tests the day before. The total number of confirmed cases since Aug. 3 was 512 as of Thursday.

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