This has been a long and difficult semester. The challenges have been significant, but by working together and making sound choices to protect the fellow members of our UGA community, we have successfully reached the end of the Fall Semester.

We commend all of the members of our UGA family—faculty, staff, and students—for your dedication and resilience in enabling us to reach this point. We are particularly appreciative to the many individuals who have worked behind the scenes on a daily basis to make our campus as safe as possible during the course of the semester. We are grateful to Dr. Jesse Hostetter, the executive director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, who worked with the faculty and University Health Center staff in the continued innovation and refinement of our testing methods. We also owe a special word of thanks to the members of two groups: the Medical Oversight Task Force, led by Dr. Garth Russo of the UGA Health Center; and the Preventative Measures Advisory Board, led by Dean Lisa Nolan of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Mr. John McCollum of the Environmental Safety Division. The names of all of the members are provided at the end of this memo. Together, these faculty and staff experts have advised us on critical decisions regarding surveillance testing, social distancing, quarantine and isolation measures, event management, intensified cleaning protocols, and a host of other issues. Adherence to their recommendations was instrumental to our ability to return to campus in August and to persevere through the Fall Semester.

We are once again relying on the wise counsel of the Medical Oversight Task Force to inform our plan for voluntary testing as we return in January for the Spring Semester. We would remind you that testing cannot be mandated under University System of Georgia policy, but we have been pleased by the strong response of the campus community to our testing program this fall, which has far exceeded expectations for participation. The Spring Testing Plan follows this memo for your information.

You should also be aware that the University of Georgia is authorized as a Point of Dispensing for the Strategic National Stockpile. This means that we will participate in the federal- and state-coordinated effort to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, when available. We do not have any specifics at this time, and we do not expect to receive a large volume of the vaccine until later in the Spring Semester. University Health Center staff and the Office of Emergency Preparedness are in close contact with state and regional emergency response and public health officials as part of the distribution process. They will advise the campus community as we know more and as the plan for implementation evolves.

The Preventative Measures Advisory Board also has updated the training module that all faculty, staff, and students took prior to our return for the Fall Semester. The training has been condensed for those of us who only need a refresher, but new hires and entering first-year or transfer students will need to take the full course. These modules will be available on January 6, and a reminder email will be provided to the campus community upon our return. In addition, new face coverings are being provided to faculty, staff, and students.

As we head into final exams and the holiday break, post-Thanksgiving cases of COVID-19 are rising in our local community and across the state and nation. We call on all of you to remain vigilant: wear your face coverings, maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings, use our testing sites, and maintain a period of quarantine where appropriate. These actions will help us to begin the Spring Semester on the right foot upon our return.

We thank you for your diligent efforts to get through the Fall Semester, and we hope you will have a safe, happy, and restful holiday season.

Members of the Medical Oversight Task Force:

  • Dr. Marsha Davis, Dean of the College of Public Health
  • Dr. Lisa Nolan, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. Shelley Nuss, Campus Dean of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership
  • Dr. Garth Russo, Executive Director of the University Health Center (Chair)

Members of the Preventative Measures Advisory Board:

  • Dr. Brandy Burgess, Director of Infection Control, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. John Francis, Campus Associate Dean for Student and Multicultural Affairs, AU/UGA Medical Partnership
  • Dr. Russ Karls, Department of Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. Chris King, Associate Vice President for Research, Office of Research Integrity and Safety
  • Mr. John Kotval, Senior Safety and Compliance Officer, Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Safety Program
  • Ms. Hayley Major, Strategic Marketing, Division of Marketing and Communications
  • Mr. John McCollum, Associate Vice President for Environmental Safety (co-chair)
  • Dr. Luke Naeher, Department of Environmental Health Science, College of Public Health
  • Dr. Lisa Nolan, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine (co-chair)
  • Dr. Glen Nowak, Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Dr. Shelley Nuss, Campus Dean, AU/UGA Medical Partnership
  • Dr. Fred Quinn, Department Head for Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. David Stallknecht, Department of Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine

TO:
UGA Faculty, Staff, and Students

FROM:
Medical Oversight Task Force:

  • Dr. Garth Russo, Executive Director of the University Health Center (Chair)
  • Dr. Marsha Davis, Dean of the College of Public Health
  • Dr. Lisa Nolan, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. Shelley Nuss, Campus Dean of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership

RE:
Return to Campus for Spring Semester: COVID-19 Testing Plan

DATE:
December 10, 2020

Foremost, we thank the members of the UGA campus community—our faculty, staff, and students—for your adherence to safety protocols throughout the Fall Semester. The strength and resilience of our community were demonstrated this fall, and we have every confidence that we will reinforce those attributes through our experiences this spring as we navigate ever closer to the promise of vaccines and immunity. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of this task force and the many others informing and implementing our Fall Semester efforts are grateful for the community’s support and the opportunity to serve.

We cannot emphasize enough that the ideal approach to entering into and returning from the Winter Break is for faculty, staff, and students to be tested on campus prior to the holiday break, followed by testing and self-quarantining at home before returning to campus. While testing will resume on campus January 4, as few as seven days of quarantine with those with whom you have spent the break would be beneficial to the public health of the entire campus community. To learn more about free testing resources in your local community, check the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) website.

When we return for the start of the Spring Semester, we will once again increase the capacity of our voluntary surveillance testing program, similar to the weeks prior to Thanksgiving.

Spring Semester testing at UGA

From January 4 – January 22 (a period of three weeks), capacity at our surveillance testing site at Legion Field and pop-up locations across campus will be expanded to accommodate up to 1,500 tests per day (1,000 per day at Legion Field and 500 via pop-up locations). These tests are free for individuals with no symptoms and can be scheduled through this website. Walk-up appointments can usually be accommodated at Legion Field, and pop-up saliva testing does not require pre-registration. Pop-up saliva testing requires a 30-minute fast, and you need to be well hydrated. For planning purposes, precise sites and schedules are published on the UHC’s website and its social media as they are secured.

A plan to once again offer privately-funded incentives for testing—e.g., T-shirts, food coupons, discounts, etc.—is being developed and will be announced when we return from the break. Students who are experiencing symptoms will continue to be tested at the University Health Center.

Mode of testing

We have learned a great deal about COVID-19 over the course of the Fall Semester, and instruments for testing have improved significantly. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has now developed a saliva-based test that has proved to be just as reliable as the nasopharyngeal swabs we have been using at the Legion Field surveillance site for the last five months. Beginning in January—as soon as we exhaust the supply of nasopharyngeal test kits—we will switch to all saliva-based testing for our surveillance efforts. This method should be much easier and more convenient for all involved. Accurate results will be provided within 24 – 72 hours.

Location of test sites

The Legion Field site will remain the primary location for routine, scheduled testing for faculty, staff, and students throughout the Spring Semester. Pop-up saliva testing has also proved effective for its convenience and as a means of augmenting base surveillance for our faculty, staff, and students. We will continue to place pop-up sites in areas of high density and heavy foot traffic. We are working to establish schedules for testing at various residence halls, the Tate Student Center, and sites on North and South Campus, as was the case prior to Thanksgiving. Off-campus locations are also being explored. The goal is to have our surveillance test demographics match our community demographics so that the data reflect a representative sample of the whole.

What has proved to be most effective

Recent scholarly articles have demonstrated that on college campuses, the primary transmission of COVID-19 has not been through classrooms or other instructional settings but rather through off-campus social settings. Therefore, because of persistent COVID-19 transmission, we must continue to follow the safety protocols that were put in place over the course of the fall, such as face coverings, social distancing, and restrictions on the size of group gatherings. These measures will universally serve all of us well, no matter our location or role. They are fundamental to supporting the University’s ongoing efforts to increase face-to-face instruction, where social distancing can be maintained.

As we prepare to leave campus for the Winter Break

We hope that everyone enjoys some well-deserved rest and relaxation over the extended holiday break. However, please be mindful of steps you should take to keep you—and those you love—safe and healthy this holiday season.

Get a free COVID-19 test

The most important thing you need to know is whether you are virus-free. The most effective way to determine that is to have a negative COVID-19 test before leaving campus. We are continuing to offer free surveillance testing at the Legion Field site through December 23. The site will be closed on Christmas Eve. Similar to the day prior to Thanksgiving, the University Health Center will provide testing on December 24th. While most test results are received within 24 – 48 hours, results can occasionally take up to 72 hours. Therefore, we recommend that you get tested on or prior to December 21 to ensure that you will have your results before December 25 (Christmas). This is particularly important if you are traveling.

Testing is available at DPH sites throughout the break during their usual hours other than Christmas Day.

If you test positive

If you receive a positive test result, you will need to isolate in accordance with CDC guidelines. You should not travel. The University of Georgia has set aside nearly 500 rooms to accommodate students from residence halls who have limited options and need to isolate after testing positive or quarantine after being exposed through a close contact. These rooms will be available over the Winter Break and upon our return in January. Upon receiving notification of such cases from DawgCheck, members of the Student Care and Outreach team will reach out to each student to help coordinate housing, food delivery, contact with professors, and other needs.

The University Health Center (UHC) will continue to provide clinical care for students with symptoms as its primary focus while the University is open. Faculty and staff who are symptomatic should seek the advice of their primary care providers in the community, consider a virtual visit through Augusta Health, or contact DPH for testing.

Plan your Winter Break carefully

Beginning now, consider that the break will potentially entail either a round trip to and from campus or a return. In general:

  • You are highly encouraged to get a flu shot if you have not yet done so: CDC Flu Shot Finder.
  • Review any local public health regulations that might apply where you will be traveling.
  • If you are traveling by air, understand the testing requirements that will be required by the airline and/or your destination.
    • We recommend being tested through the UGA surveillance program four days prior to your departure from or return to Athens. Some airlines require testing within 24 hours, so re-check air travel requirements frequently.
  • Consider 10 – 14 days of self-quarantine prior to travel to protect those you may come into contact with, particularly those who are ill or vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • At the very least, self-quarantine after your COVID-19 test to minimize exposure and the chance of infection. The CDC recently revised the definition of close contact as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
  • Travel wisely.
    • Reduce the number of stops on your trip, take a direct flight, and if driving, pack food/snacks for the car.
    • Remain vigilant with social distancing and wear your face covering.
    • Use hand sanitizer liberally on your hands and on touchable surfaces, particularly if you are using any public transit.

Once you have reached your destination

Your first 14 days at any new destination are very important. Consider self-quarantine: i.e., use a separate bathroom if possible; do not share utensils, glasses or plates; and, as hard as it may seem, avoid hugging and kissing those close to you, especially those who may have predisposing conditions. Consider using HEPA filter units, and if that’s not feasible, increase the exchange of air by opening windows, weather permitting. Restrict your movement in public spaces that are indoors. This is particularly applicable to large gatherings in confined spaces that are common to holiday celebrations, break periods, and reuniting with campus friends and acquaintances. Remember that the practical guidance of social distancing, face covering, and hand hygiene that has helped to keep us safe remains the most potent form of protection for both yourself and others.

Throughout this period, please remember to take care of yourself as travel, break periods, and even the holidays can be very stressful times, especially given our current constraints. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Don’t forget: we are here for you, and outside of the official campus closure dates, most of the services offered by the UHC are available to students through a telehealth visit, including those for mental/behavioral health.

In closing, thank you for the extraordinary efforts you have made this semester to protect yourself and your fellow community members from COVID-19. We urge you to continue to make wise choices over the holiday break to keep you, your loved ones, friends and colleagues safe. Let’s all return for the Spring Semester “Georgia Strong/Dawg Strong.”