January 13, 2021
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,
Happy New Year and welcome back! We are starting the new semester with mixed emotions – excitement, anxiety and anticipation. As much as we would like to see the pandemic disappear, we know that the end is still several months away. While the introduction of the vaccines is promising, it does not absolve us from our responsibility to stay vigilant and follow every necessary precaution to keep ourselves and everyone around us safe and healthy.
In the wake of the current spike in infections, we pledge to remain flexible and compassionate in our plans for the spring semester. Two months ago, we had hoped to offer more in-person, on-campus classes, but on Dec. 21 of last year, we felt it prudent to switch to a more flexible plan, offering options to both faculty and students to select their preferred format. We advised staff to work from home to the extent possible with only critical staff present on campus to support students and faculty. Our belief is that this flexible approach worked well during the fall semester and will be the most desirable plan to start the spring. Of course, our team will continue to monitor the situation and will broaden the on-campus presence with more classes and services as soon as it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, residence halls and services will remain open, as will the research labs. I ask that anyone wishing to be on campus follow all University protocols related to COVID-19 without exceptions! You will be receiving a communication from the provost soon that provides more details about operations and instruction.
Meanwhile, please note the few items below.
COVID-19 Testing: UH COVID-19 Team is encouraging everyone – students, faculty and staff – to take a COVID-19 test three to five days prior to their return to campus to prevent the risk of transmission from asymptomatic carriers. To make it easier, we are offering you three options:
- Use the NEW testing site on campus. Starting this Wednesday, a free COVID-19 testing site for faculty, staff and students—symptomatic or asymptomatic—will be available. Please review the details here.
- Use Student Health Center, which is available for faculty, staff and students who are symptomatic or have been identified as exposed AND are participating in on-campus courses, living or working on campus. There is no charge for those with health insurance.
- Use one of the free testing available from the city of Houston.
Travel During the Pandemic: If you have been traveling internationally during the winter break, we ask that you follow University policy, which includes filing the Reporting Potential Exposure and Request to Return to Campus forms upon your return. Be aware that the CDC has issued an order, effective Jan. 26, requiring all air passengers arriving in the United States from a foreign country to get tested no more than three days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. At this point, UH prohibits University-sanctioned domestic travel for business or study until May 31 and there is a ban on international travel through July 31.
COVID-19 Vaccines: The Student Health Center and the Lone Star Circle of Care at UH have applied to become points of distribution for the COVID-19 vaccine. I remain hopeful that one or both of these will soon be able to offer vaccines to our campus community.
COVID-19 Website: The UH COVID-19 website is designed to keep you informed. Our COVID-19 Team is working diligently to help us fulfill our educational mission while staying safe. However, all of us need to do our part. May I strongly urge you to follow CDC guidelines as well as University’s protocols by wearing face coverings, maintaining social distance, and practicing good handwashing hygiene? If you experience symptoms or have been exposed, please stay home and isolate yourself until the issue has been resolved.
It has been a rough year for all of us. However, I admire the resiliency that you have shown responding to the challenges and making progress toward the dual mission of education and research. If you have any questions or concerns regarding COVID-19, please direct them to the UH COVID-19 Team on the website or write to me.
I wish you a safe and productive semester and hope to see you in person soon.
With warm regards,