In the state of GA and in Clarke County, the total number of cases is starting to decline (this decline started a few days ago). Cases on campus may still be going up, but there is hope that the Omicron wave will subside over the next few weeks. In light of that, and in light of the need to fulfill our instructional obligations, we will let the current modifications expire on January 30th. This means that starting on Monday, ensembles can meet in-person, and we will allow audiences for public performances.
It is important to note that COVID cases and hospitalizations are still incredibly high. Cases may be starting to go down, but they peaked at more than double the highest case count of the Delta surge. Cases are still much higher than at any point during the Delta surge, and transmission remains a serious concern. There is a long way to go to get to a “comfortable” case count. One marker is the testing positivity rate, which experts would like to see under 5% for a sustained period. That rate in Clarke County is currently at 34%.
We are returning to the protocols we had in place last semester during the Delta surge, and here is the document for your reference. Some very important points to recall from that document:
- Masks and bell covers are strongly encouraged in all indoor settings (KN95 or N95 masks recommended), especially ensembles
- Distancing and air exchange remain important principles; outdoors is the safest place as weather allows
- Wind/brass/voice lessons are still encouraged to limit time in small (studio) spaces
- Exchanging studios, using classrooms, and teaching outdoors remain good strategies, as was done in the fall
- Please respect and consider the physical and mental health of all students. If students are uncomfortable in given settings, allow them to opt-out
- Please exercise patience with student absences; many students continue to test positive or must isolate due to close contact to a positive case
Happy New Year, and welcome back! I hope you all enjoyed the break. While it’s definitely not the news I wanted to start with, COVID is “back” as well. As you prepare for the start of classes, I wanted to let you know of modifications that will be in place for the first three weeks of the semester. We will discuss more in our faculty meeting (on Zoom) Wednesday, 1/12 at 1:50pm.
While it is true that Omicron cases are mild for most vaccinated individuals, it isn’t true in every case. Severe cases can still happen, and those that are unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised are at a much higher risk for severe cases. Omicron is also spreading much more rapidly and easily than any other variant. Some of the older “rules” about COVID are out the window. For Omicron, cloth masks do not appear to be effective (use KN95s) and 6 foot distancing is not sufficient for reducing spread between unmasked individuals.
While there is hope that this surge will come and go quickly, we want to keep students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy during the surge. We will modify approaches to ensembles and wind/brass/voice lessons for the first three weeks of the semester. Please read what follows carefully. We are hopeful that these changes will be temporary. As always, we appreciate your patience and flexibility, and please reach out with any questions you might have. I’ll be prepared to take questions in the faculty meeting as well.
Classroom Instruction will continue as it did in the Fall Semester. Masking is still strongly encouraged. Class format cannot be changed unless there is an exception/accommodation already on file. Please make sure that your syllabus is current and uploaded to syllabus.uga.edu, that it includes the COVID language recommended by UGA, and that you have a backup who can access your class roles in eLC. Report any symptoms, contact, or positive test results through Dawg Check. Please see e-mails earlier this week (from ArchNews and Office of Instruction) for general UGA policies on instruction and COVID.
The Dean’s office has worked together with the Performing Arts Units on campus to release the following guidelines for Ensembles and Lessons:
Ensembles: In light of the increased COVID surge, the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and the increased risks to performing artists, temporary measures will be in place to start the spring 2022 semester. For the first three weeks of the semester (through January 30th), for Dance, Theatre and Film Studies, and the School of Music, any large indoor group rehearsals for performance groups and classes are suspended. Ensembles and groups of 20 or more individuals will not rehearse or perform indoors. Instructors should pursue alternate instructional activities and approaches during this time period. There will be no live audiences for any departmental performances held during this period (performances may be streamed).
Wind, Brass, and Voice Lessons: In an effort to reduce spread of the Omicron variant, faculty are encouraged to explore alternate options for in-person wind, brass, and voice lessons during the first three weeks of the semester (through January 30th. Alternate assignments, outdoor lessons, online lessons, and/or in-person meetings that do not involve playing can all be considered during this time. Any in-person lessons (including strings, piano, and percussion) should employ as much risk mitigation as possible, including distancing, well-fitted masks (KN95 strongly recommended), bell covers for wind/brass instruments, use of a HEPA air filter, and time limits. As always, any student who is not comfortable with an in-person scenario must be allowed to opt-out without penalty.
For ensembles and groups (19 people or less), I would encourage similar procedures OR the adoption of significant safety measures. Ensemble directors, you may meet with your groups on the first day of class (without playing) to provide information, or reach out to them via e-mail. Please reach out to me directly with specific concerns or questions.
There are very few concerts affected by these changes, and I am already working with those involved. There are four student recitals and one student chamber concert scheduled during this time. If you are the faculty involved with these groups, please reach out to them and see if they would prefer to go as scheduled or reschedule for later when an audience may be permitted. We will do our best to find alternate options for these students.
Once again, we’ll be creative and flexible, and we’ll get through this.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We are all excited about welcoming you to the Hugh Hodgson School this Year. This will be a year of wonderful music-making and I can’t wait to see all of you, hear your performances, and watch what you achieve on stage, in the classroom, and in our community.
We are also watching the current developments surrounding COVID-19 and the Delta variant. As always, our goals are to provide you with a world-class musical experience while keeping everyone healthy and safe. Please read the following information about the start of the semester carefully.
At the direction of the University System of Georgia, all educational activities on campus will resume without requirements of social distancing. The University System of Georgia, in accordance with CDC guidelines, is recommending that all individuals wear face coverings when in campus facilities, regardless of vaccination status.
The Preventive Measures Advisory Board at the University of Georgia (a panel consisting of top medical and workplace safety experts) says the following:
The PMAB recommends that the HHSOM strongly encourage faculty, staff and students to be fully vaccinated and wear face coverings indoors. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 during higher risk activities, such as wind and vocal lessons and performances, the HHSOM should strongly encourage preventative measures that lower risk based on the available guidance for schools of music. Encouraging the use of bell covers, utilizing well ventilated spaces or outdoor areas, and controlling the time/frequency a high risk activity takes place are recommended whenever possible at HHSOM. Promoting a culture of COVID-19 safety among faculty, staff and students is very important for reducing risk as we begin the semester.
In accordance with these recommendations, we ask that all of you consider the following:
We urge you to get vaccinated.
In the School of Music, playing instruments and singing in close proximity generates unique levels of aerosols. Vaccination is our best defense against contraction and spread of COVID-19, and it is a strong and effective defense against the Delta variant, illness, hospitalization, and death. For your own safety and the safety of those around you, we urge you to get vaccinated. If you are not currently vaccinated, UGA is providing easy access to the vaccine through walk-up appointments. There are also special incentives in place. Please see this page for more information: https://coronavirus.uga.edu/
We urge you to use masks and bell covers in all classes, lessons, and rehearsals, including while singing and playing.
We urge everyone to use masks in all lessons, ensemble rehearsals, chamber music, and other interactions. Musician’s masks and bell covers are readily available online at a low cost. If cost is a barrier, let us know and we will help provide resources.
We urge you to be responsible.
It takes a collective effort to keep everyone safe. Continue to wash your hands regularly, sanitize common surfaces, and practice good hygiene. When off-campus, make smart decisions about social gatherings, and avoid large indoor, unmasked crowds. Act judiciously when in public spaces. Outdoor activities are much safer than indoor activities.
Air exchange and air circulation are two of the strongest tools for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Last year, the overall rate of air exchange in the HHSOM was increased, and we installed medical-grade HEPA air filters in classrooms, practice rooms, rehearsal spaces, and studios. We urge you to use these filters, and to allow time for air exchange when working with others indoors.
- Ensembles will meet in-person, at pre-COVID capacities. Masks, bell covers, and distancing are strongly encouraged. Directors have discretion to make adjustments as necessary.
- Classes will meet in-person, at pre-COVID capacities. Masks and bell covers are strongly encouraged, and distancing is encouraged using available space.
- Applied lessons will take place in-person. Piano, string, and percussion lessons are encouraged to employ masks and distancing. For wind, brass, and voice lessons, the following options are available and strongly encouraged during the current surge of cases:
- Outdoor lessons
- Lessons in HHSOM classrooms (as space allows; space will be limited)
- In-studio lessons of 30-minute duration, with air exchange in between lessons
- Use of HEPA air filters, masks, and bell covers during applied lessons
- Practice rooms will continue to be reserved and scheduled with periods of air exchange, allowing for unmasked practicing. Please contact Dr. Stephen Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org
- We are currently monitoring the situation with respect to public concerts and performances, and stand ready to provide additional guidance as appropriate.
All of these recommendations may be adjusted as the situation changes, and we hope that our collective efforts to vaccinate and mitigate spread will change the situation for the better. We all want nothing more than a return to “normal” where everyone is safe, healthy, and comfortable. I’m so proud of all that you did to keep our community safe during the last 18 months. I know we are tired of COVID-19 and exhausted from its effects. I’m also confident that we can work through the current surge and continue to make music that helps the world. The faculty, staff, and administration of the HHSOM are committed to your education and well-being. Please help us by working together and protecting our family. We can do this and we will get through this!!
With best wishes,
Peter J. Jutras, Ph.D, NCTM
Professor and Director