Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022

Dear UNT Faculty,

The past two years of living with COVID-19 have presented us with nearly unimaginable challenges, but we have moved through this pandemic more safely than almost any other campus in Texas because of your efforts and dedication to our mission. We also have delivered on the promise that our campus is safer than the broader community. Now, we are facing a new variant that is highly infectious but is markedly less virulent. While there are breakthrough infections to those who are vaccinated and have received boosters, all reports note that these generally result in milder symptoms and few hospitalizations. To date, we are not aware of any hospitalizations from Omicron on our campus.

Given that this variant is so different from past strains of COVID-19, the CDC released new guidelines for shorter isolation times for those who test positive and the current UNT guidelines can be found here. The vast majority of severe infections and hospitalizations are for unvaccinated individuals. Thus, I strongly recommend that our campus faculty, staff, and students take advantage of the free vaccines and boosters offered at our Student Health and Wellness Center.

As this surge peaks in Texas, we are pleased that we decided last year to start our spring semester a week later than most schools in the state, but we still are confronted with a difficult choice on how to start. The first week of class is critical to our students' success, and we are deeply concerned with the mental health issues we have seen when our faculty, staff, and students have gone remote previously. We also are concerned that we keep our community as safe as possible as the surge passes.

Based on guidance from UNT System, the UNT Health Science Center, and our Health Crisis Team, we plan to start Jan. 18 with face-to-face instruction. We will continue to follow the advice of our Health Crisis Team on isolation for those who test positive, we will continue our surveillance testing, and we strongly encourage our community to get vaccinated. We have improved air filtration systems, and we recommend that everyone wear masks indoors for our community's safety. We also encourage all members of our community to get tested before returning to campus. Testing is available for free at the University Union and in our Student Health and Wellness Center.

We are trying to meet the safety needs of our community and the needs of our students to get off to a good academic start this spring. We have given each VP area greater flexibility in establishing the balance between business continuity and safety, and each division will establish guidelines for remote work as needed. To prepare faculty teaching face-to-face for a safe semester, Provost Cowley will provide detailed guidance on instructional continuity at a webinar on Friday, Jan. 14 beginning at 9 a.m. You may submit anonymous questions to panelists prior to the event. A recording will be posted on the Return to Learn website soon after the event for your convenience to accompany the current Academic Affairs protocols posted there.

Working together, we have been remarkably safe as a community. Moving forward this spring, I know we can once again keep our students' dreams moving forward. I thank you all for your tireless efforts.

Stay safe,
Neal Smatresk
UNT President