University unveils “AU Forward: Fall 2021 Health and Safety Plan” to go into effect starting Aug. 1

Document provides details on return to in-person campus operations

University unveils “AU Forward: Fall 2021 Health and Safety Plan” to go into effect starting Aug. 1

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

Editor's Note: This article is a developing story and has been updated with additional information.

American University announced its plan to return to on-campus operations this fall in an email to the AU community Tuesday. 

According to the “AU Forward: Fall 2021 Health and Safety Plan,” the University will return to “Full Operations Mode” on Aug. 1. The plan lists several steps to support the decision, including mitigation strategies, accommodations and policies implemented for those who cannot get vaccinated for medical or other reasons. 

“This comprehensive document outlines our requirements and operational steps that will support our students and our workforce in the return to the classroom and the office,” Fanta Aw, the vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, wrote in the email. 

According to Tuesday’s email, the plan is based on health and safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DC Department of Health (DCDOH), though they “also build on the activities and lessons from our community during our revised operations throughout the past year.”

The University announced in April that all students with an on-campus presence need to be vaccinated for the fall. However, students and staff who are teaching remotely qualify for vaccination exemptions, along with those who acquire University-approved religious or medical exemptions.

All students, staff and faculty who are not yet fully vaccinated or have exemptions from the vaccine requirement will be subject to testing once a week at minimum, Aw told The Eagle. Due to variants of the virus, the University may require fully vaccinated community members to participate in periodic surveillance testing.

Fully vaccinated individuals also do not have to wear face masks in most settings, with the exception of the shuttle buses, the Student Health Center and any other facility that has a posted requirement. Unvaccinated members must continue to wear a mask indoors and when they are in contact with others in addition to filling out AU’s online screening form daily and cooperating with DCDOH contact-tracing efforts.

According to the plan, students will be required to sign a Health and Safety Pledge. Faculty and staff members must also sign an acknowledgment that they will follow all measures mandated by both the University and the District.

While the plan states that the University will return to “full capacity in-person learning,” classes with more than 50 students will continue to be held online. Departments may also opt to put some sections of certain courses online — especially required courses or courses with many sections — for groups who require an online modality, such as international students.

According to Aw, face masks will not be required in classes with less than 50 students for those who are fully vaccinated. 

Once the University reaches an 85 percent vaccination rate, these precautions will be re-evaluated. The University expects to reach vaccination rates among the student body of upwards of 90 percent, Aw said. According to a survey about vaccination status in early April, 89 percent of faculty and staff plan to be fully vaccinated by the fall.

Those who test positive for the virus will be required to notify the University and abide by DCDOH guidelines regarding quarantine. Students living on campus will be isolated in designated rooms with the University assisting with their essential needs. 

If vaccinated community members are exposed to the virus and do not show symptoms, the University will also be basing its policy off of DCDOH guidelines. Unvaccinated individuals will be subject to testing and quarantine.

Cleaning will generally return to pre-pandemic levels and frequency, with staff and faculty resuming responsibility for sanitizing their own desks. Units with kitchen appliances will be responsible for maintaining their cleanliness and for acquiring sufficient cleaning supplies.

Plexiglass partitions will remain in place at reception desks, customer service desks, cash registers and residence hall desks. In special-purpose rooms — including break rooms, lounges and community restrooms — users will be expected to manage their space appropriately in accordance with health and safety guidelines, according to the updated plan. 

The University encourages students who meet the high-risk threshold with regards to the virus to request accommodations through the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by contacting the Academic Support and Access Center. Faculty and staff can seek ADA accommodations through the Office of Human Resources. 

If there are increases in positivity rates observed among fully vaccinated AU community members and/or within D.C., Maryland and Virginia, the University will notify the community of any updates to DCDOH guidance. 

The University also said that it is prepared to quickly return to remote operations if a virus resurgence leads the D.C. government to revert to Phase One of the city’s reopening plan. 

Community members are asked to email fallfeedback@american.edu with any questions.

kcorliss@theeagleonline.com and bjohansen@theeagleonline.com 

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