As students return to campus and with the fall semester underway, the University has decided to alter its protocols concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and their policies on masking, testing, and social distancing, among other things. 

The University has seen its fair share of changes to its protocols, and this semester is no exception. At the end of the last semester, on May 20, the University suspended its biweekly testing program and retired the COVID-19 dashboard, which tracked the number of cases and those in quarantine on campus. They also announced that they would be retiring the Campus Passport system, including the Daily Health Assessment. 

Associate Provost for Research Administration Morgen Bergman sent out an email to students on Wednesday, Aug. 10, detailing the University’s updated COVID-19 response program, and all information is available on the University’s COVID-19 response website. 

One of the larger changes to the program was the decision to issue a color-coded COVID Status Level. As of the beginning of the semester, the current status level is "yellow," which means that the campus is open and that “campus transmission is low and has minimal impact on campus operations,” according to the response website. Masking is required in classes with some exceptions at the discretion of the professor, in indoor gatherings consisting of twenty or more people, at indoor sporting events, performances, or venues with “concentrated occupancy,” excluding when eating or drinking; on University transportation, such as the BranVan, buses, and shuttles; and wherever on campus a masking requirement is posted. The COVID-19 response website specifies that individuals on campus “should always feel welcome to wear a mask for their own protection” even where they are not required, but constant masking is not mandated. 

At the current status level, there are no additional dining restrictions, full in-person dining is allowed in all dining locations, with “mobile pickup and masked takeout” for those in isolation and quarantine. The "yellow" status also allows unlimited or full capacity at all campus events and programs, regardless of whether such events are indoors or outdoors, and classes can all take place in-person. Classes, while still requiring masking, are starting to eliminate remote options, and professors are no longer required to provide a virtual option for students. There are no additional restrictions to the basic Brandeis policies on accepting visitors, and travel is unrestricted. Staff must work on campus “per the needs of their departments.” 

The testing program, while not drastically different from the summer 2022 protocols, differs from the system in place during the 2021-2022 academic year. Not only is the Campus Passport retired, students are no longer testing every 96 hours, as the former asymptomatic surveillance testing program is not in use. Instead, testing is cause-only for students who have been exposed or are symptomatic. In such cases, students will go to the Health Center to test, and students are encouraged to contact the Health Center to discuss any concerns regarding symptoms and engagement in campus activities by emailing Faculty and staff are to test through rapid tests; the website states that they are to either take a rapid test of their own or contact their PCP. 

Students returning to campus for the fall semester were required to test themselves, whether with a rapid or PCR test, at home prior to arrival. According to Bergman’s email, individuals who test positive should not return to campus. It was strongly recommended that students bring at least one rapid testing kit with them to campus. Students were also required to test themselves three days following their arrival  on campus. During those three days, students were instructed to mask indoors while around others, with exceptions for when eating and drinking. If they test negative, students are to follow the masking protocols specific to the yellow status level. While there is no longer a campus-wide asymptomatic testing program, event sponsors are allowed to require one negative test from participants. 

In her Aug. 10 email, Bergman cited the widespread availability of rapid tests as the reason for the changes in testing, but suggested that individuals still test themselves at least once a week, with an added stress on when case rates in the area are high, when returning to campus after travel, or after a “known or potential exposure.” Furthermore, students are required to report any positive cases to the Brandeis Contact Tracing Program, who can be reached at their email, 

Because students are encouraged to bring their own rapid testing kits, the Brandeis COVID-19 response website specifies that students can obtain rapid tests from the U.S. Postal Service or their health insurance providers. They also link to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website, which provides further information on how to obtain testing kits. The website also provides a spreadsheet with testing resources. 

The University’s vaccination requirements have not changed. Aside from those with documented medical or religious exemptions, which must be approved by the University, all students are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 “with a WHO- or FDA-authorized or approved vaccine,” according to the University website. All vaccination records are required to be uploaded to the University’s health records system, Medicat, prior to the start of the semester, or prior to faculty and staff’s “first day of employment.” 

In addition to the yellow status level, the system includes three other status levels. A green status level — similarly to yellow — represents an open campus, and most of the guidelines are the same. Under a green status, however, all masking is optional regardless of capacity or location, including classes, although individual campus areas are able to require masking. 

An orange status level, while also meaning an open campus, has stricter restrictions regarding COVID-19. Under this status, masking is required in all gatherings of 8 or more and in all classes, with exemptions for eating and drinking at indoor events or performances. Gathering size would be reduced to 50% capacity, and all visitors would be required to take the Daily Health Assessment and mask whenever indoors. Unvaccinated individuals would be required to mask when indoors around others. Travel would be discouraged, with testing encouraged upon arrival, and those returning would be advised to self-quarantine. Under the orange status level, classes would be prepared to go completely remote if necessary. The testing system would be altered as well: while testing would still be for-cause, the University would monitor cluster-testing for certain groups, such as clubs or sports teams. Rapid tests would also be provided to the community, although the website does not specify how. 

The most severe status level is a red status, which would denote the campus as restricted. Masking would be required at all times when indoors, and those eating or drinking would be advised to maintain a distance of six feet from others. All gatherings would have a maximum of 10 people, 50 percent capacity, and no food or drink. Visitors would not be allowed, and only University-approved or sponsored travel would be allowed. Under this status level, classes would go fully remote, with all staff working from home with exceptions for essential workers. In-person dining would be suspended with a takeout option available. However, testing would remain for-cause, with testing available at the health center.

As the country continues to open up, Brandeis is making similar decisions, with protocols less strict than they were during the 2021-2022 academic year, although the University specifies that the current rules are subject to change. In her email, Bergman makes clear that the COVID Steering Committee is monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Massachusetts very closely, and will make any changes necessary to “make compassionate, respectful, data-informed decisions about how we respond to COVID-19” at the University.