With the continued impact of the coronavirus worldwide, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has made a few changes to support in-person activities for the spring 2021 semester.
These changes, guided by the Spring Open Committee, mirror or follow protocols implemented before the fall 2020 semester in hopes UNL can continue to offer in-person experiences while prioritizing health and safety.
Face coverings and physical distancing are among the guidelines continuing in the spring, and the university will continue to offer isolation housing for any student who needs it. But, with changing health protocols, mandatory saliva-based testing and monitored building access are among the major updates facing UNL community members.
The spring semester begins on Jan. 25, and The Daily Nebraskan has compiled university protocols the UNL community should know before the semester starts.
Saliva-based re-entry testing
As students return to UNL, it is required for all community members who wish to be on campus to participate in at least two rounds of saliva-based testing, per guidance from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. One round must be completed before classes begin.
This testing, which began Tuesday, differs from the voluntary and symptomatic approach the university took in the fall, centered upon nasal-swab tests and randomized mitigation testing.
Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director, said the university planned for roughly 25,000 students, faculty and staff to participate in the testing. She said UNL officials expect to have enough testing capacity with few delays during the first round of testing.
The tests will be analyzed at the Veterinary Diagnostic Center on East Campus.
Faculty and staff who will be on campus will be required to get tested as part of this program, while any student residing in Lancaster County, including those who are on campus, must participate, per the LLCHD’s recommendation. Students who live outside Lancaster County must also participate if they come to campus for classes or work.
Students who live in Lancaster County but will not be on campus for classes may request an exemption from the testing. Individuals who have a “substantiated medical reason” or those who tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 90 days may also request an exemption — which would last until the 90-day period ends.
UNL community members must download the new “Safer Community” app to sign up for a test and get their status for building access.
Before testing, individuals should not eat or drink 30 minutes prior to the appointment, but should drink plenty of water beforehand. Water may be consumed until 10 minutes before. Additional tips for saliva testing are available here.
Test results will be made available within the app or via email for those without the app within approximately 24 hours.
Individuals will be notified through the app when their next test result is required, Reed said. Students are encouraged to test toward the end of a 10-day window.
There will be 13 Lincoln-based saliva testing sites during the spring — spread across City, East and Nebraska Innovation campuses. An additional site for the first round of testing will be located at Lot 26 southwest of Baxter Arena in Omaha.
Nasal-swab testing will continue to be offered, but this method will be prioritized for individuals who think they have been exposed to the coronavirus or are showing symptoms. Anyone who is symptomatic or feels they have been infected should be tested here, not at the saliva-based testing sites
During the fall semester, nasal-swab testing was offered at the 17th and R Parking Garage and at the East Stadium Loop outside Memorial Stadium, but as of Tuesday, the testing will occur instead on 17th Street, between Courtyards and the Willa Cather Dining Center.
On-demand nasal-based testing will be available Monday-Thursday, 3-6 p.m.; Friday, 3-6 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Tests can be scheduled at any time here.
Though UNL community members will know whether they are positive or negative for COVID-19 as part of the mandatory testing program, this does not mean that individuals should engage in riskier behavior as a result.
“Each member of the UNL community should follow all health and safety measures, including wearing masks, maintaining appropriate distances from one another and avoiding large gatherings and confined spaces,” Reed said.
Reed said the university is prepared for a potential increase in positive cases as a result of the mandatory testing. Neihardt Residence Hall will continue to offer isolation housing, and additional space can be made available if needed.
In December, Chancellor Ronnie Green announced that testing would be required every two weeks during the spring semester. Instead, the results of the first two rounds of testing will provide evidence as to what further testing the university will implement.
Reed said this decision will be announced after results from the first two rounds become available.
Building access: Wellness attendants and the Safer Community app
Any UNL faculty, staff or student who wishes to use on-campus facilities or attend events on campus must participate in the testing program and show proof of a negative test thereafter, which will be tracked using the Safer Community app.
Wellness attendants, a new position created this semester to ensure testing and face covering compliance, will be stationed inside most primary entrances at the university beginning Jan. 25. These attendants will check if individuals have building access as a result of a recent negative test or exemption, as indicated through the app, according to an FAQ about spring testing.
A building access card may be printed for those who do not have the mobile app at kiosks located at the 17th and R Parking Garage or East Campus Service Building.
Building access will continue until an individual tests positive or fails to receive a necessary follow-up test.
Individuals who have a positive test or are using the app for the first time, past due for a test result, have self-reported symptoms or received exposure notifications and are in quarantine will not be allowed to enter, according to the app.
Attendants will be identified with vests at building entrances and will be positioned at most UNL buildings, including academic buildings, campus recreation and dining halls. They will also have disposable masks on-hand to ensure mask compliance, according to Nebraska Today.
When entering a building without a stationed wellness attendant, UNL community members are expected to still comply with face covering guidelines and abide by their building access status.
Enhanced Cornhusker Commitment and COVID-19 training
Before the fall 2020 semester, UNL community members were encouraged to voluntarily sign the Cornhusker Commitment, which was created “to encourage voluntary compliance with COVID-19 prevention protocols,” according to Reed.
With the addition of mandatory testing, as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases in late November and early December, the Spring 2021 Cornhusker Commitment is required for students to agree to and grant access to the saliva testing program.
Students may access the commitment via MyRED, where they will be asked to update their address and cell phone number so the university has the most-recent information on hand.
As of mid-October, more than 17,000 students, faculty and staff signed the fall 2020 commitment. On Friday, Reed said more than 19,000 students have already signed the new commitment.
Students should also complete the university’s Spring 2021 COVID-19 Training. The training has been updated to include information regarding the saliva testing, as well as a breakdown of coronavirus symptoms.
This training will be available through the university’s Canvas Bridge systems, and students will be reminded through MyRED and held accountable to complete both the training and sign the commitment, according to Reed.