Looking Forward to the Fall Semester

August 14, 2020

Dear Members of the Yale Community,

As announced on July 1, we are reactivating a residential college education for a portion of our undergraduates, welcoming all of our graduate and professional school students back to campus, and ramping up research activities and other university operations. I look forward to the start of this extraordinary academic year.

Over the summer, teams of faculty and staff members have worked around the clock to realize a thoughtful set of plans for fall 2020. From implementing the best technology available for wide-ranging teaching needs to initiating enhanced cleaning procedures and rigorous testing protocols, we are prepared to meet the challenges of creating and sharing knowledge in the coming semester.

To our students, especially first years and sophomores in Yale College, thank you for your willingness to be flexible. The fall semester will be different from anything experienced by our community. Despite the changes to how we teach, learn, and interact, we will continue to realize Yale’s mission to improve “the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice.” Carrying out this mission is more urgent than ever—even as we confront a virus whose resilience tests our own.

Together, we will make the fall semester the best it can be. Together, we will educate the next generation, provide solutions to pressing challenges, and ask questions about our world. Together, we will establish new ways to conduct research, share knowledge, and connect with one another. Every obstacle we overcome makes us more capable of addressing the next challenge.

When Provost Scott Strobel and I announced Yale’s plans for fall 2020, we noted that we will be tracking factors external to the university that affect our operations. We have been monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 in our region and across the country, as well as attendant regulations from government officials and agencies. I provide, below, updates about current public health conditions in Connecticut, Yale’s preparations for the fall, and the university’s COVID-19 testing requirements. Because of encouraging public health trends in the state, our ability to test members of our community frequently and with acceptable turnaround time for results, and the outstanding planning by hundreds of faculty and staff across the university, I am pleased to be able to move forward with our announced plans.

Public health conditions in Connecticut

Connecticut continues to report some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 transmission, hospitalization, and mortality in the country. Overall, there has been a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state since April, and Connecticut’s rate of positive test results has been about 1 percent since late June.

The status of hospitalization for COVID-19 in our region is encouraging as well. As I write this, in the entire Yale New Haven Health System, comprising five hospitals, there are only seventeen inpatients with COVID-19. That number peaked at 787 back in April.

Connecticut’s public health improvements are due in large part to the excellent leadership of Governor Ned Lamont, his advisors and staff, and to strict adherence to social distancing, wearing face coverings, regular handwashing, and self-monitoring for symptoms by the residents of the state. The state’s auspicious COVID-19 situation speaks to the tremendous power of these behaviors.

As Yale welcomes students back to campus, we have a responsibility to sustain and not compromise these efforts to mitigate the spread of the disease. Students returning to campus must review, sign, and follow the Yale Community Compact, which describes health protective policies to which everyone must adhere. And faculty and staff must commit to following a complementary set of guidelines. I know that each of us will live up to our responsibilities to one another.

Applying what we have learned from reactivating research on campus over the summer

Since the beginning of June, many faculty, staff, and graduate and professional school students have returned to campus to continue their research, scholarship, and studies. To help prevent the transmission of the disease, Yale launched the COVID-19 testing program to test asymptomatic individuals as they resumed onsite work and study. Of the 5,303 asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff tested to date, seven (0.1 percent) were COVID-19 positive. Those individuals who tested positive were promptly notified, instructed to isolate, provided with care instructions, and connected to Yale’s contact tracing team. 

We have been able to prevent community spread of the coronavirus at Yale because faculty, staff, and students on campus this summer were extremely serious about wearing their masks, not gathering in groups, maintaining social distance, and washing their hands. In addition, our dedicated custodial staff enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting of university facilities. Their exceptional work has been a great service to us all.

Based on what we have learned from research reactivation over the summer, we are emphasizing to all our colleagues and students who are returning to campus in the fall that each of us has a vital role to play in maintaining the health and safety of our community. Every single one of our choices, from putting on a face covering to maintaining distance from others, makes a difference.

Rigorous testing requirements for students, faculty, and staff for the fall semester

Yale has comprehensive testing policies to screen for COVID-19 infection and provide timely results and advice for the students, faculty, and staff who will be studying and working on campus in the fall. In addition, the university has established a contact tracing program and appropriate procedures for quarantine and isolation. The university’s testing, quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing plans for all groups are available at the health and safety guidelines webpage. Yale’s rigorous testing and other policies will help us identify asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 and contain the spread of the virus in our community. By adhering to the university’s policies, we can make our contribution to maintaining the encouraging public health situation in Connecticut.

Avoiding travel once we are together in New Haven

Once we are together in New Haven, we must avoid travel as much as possible. Many communities across the nation are struggling to contain outbreaks of COVID-19. In order to protect our Yale and New Haven communities, we must minimize the risk of imported infections by limiting travel outside of Connecticut. For example, we reorganized the academic calendar to minimize out-of-state travel during the semester. Undergraduates may travel only for emergencies or with approval from their residential college deans’ offices for travel that is essential for educational or personal reasons. Yale strongly urges graduate and professional students, faculty, and staff to limit their travel as well.

Everyone should wear face coverings, maintain social distancing, and practice other health protective behaviors while traveling. Travelers returning from abroad or any state with a high prevalence of COVID-19 must be tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine in their rooms or apartments for 14 days. Other domestic travelers are encouraged to be tested through the Yale COVID-19 Screening Program upon return.

A significantly de-densified campus in the fall

When we announced plans for the fall semester on July 1, we wrote about the importance of de-densifying the residential colleges and other university housing for preventing community spread of COVID-19. The residential colleges will be at less than 40 percent capacity when students return. This fact reduces the risk of a surge in COVID-19 infection on campus and in our home city, but only if those living off campus are just as vigilant as those on campus in adhering to social distancing, wearing face coverings, avoiding large gatherings, and self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. Although I wish this pandemic were behind us by now and that we could invite all students back, we must remain focused on the health and safety of those on our campus and in our region, as we return to teaching and learning.


As a research university, we have a responsibility to contribute knowledge and understanding, particularly during times of turbulence. We must also demonstrate to others the importance of taking actions for the common good based on scientific evidence. Together, we handled the abrupt, unexpected disruption to our work and lives last spring by embracing expert advice. Together, we will continue to be vigilant in the coming year to safeguard public health while maintaining the continuity of Yale’s commitment to education, research, and scholarship.

My colleagues and I will keep you apprised of any significant change in the spread of COVID-19 or Yale’s plans for the fall. In the meantime, please remember that every health protective decision we make helps to safeguard our own well-being and the health of others in our community. It will take our collective actions and commitment to prevent the spread of this disease to those with whom we come in contact and to end this pandemic.

With best wishes for your health and safety,

Peter Salovey
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology