COVID-19 Update – First Confirmed Yale COVID-19 Case; Extending Online Instruction to End of Spring Semester; Campus and Staffing Considerations

March 14, 2020

Dear Members of the Yale Community,

I write to inform you of important decisions regarding the remainder of the spring semester and remind you of measures we must take in the interest of the health and safety of our community.

First Yale COVID-19 Case

Earlier today, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin notified us that a member of our community has tested positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) on a preliminary test, and that we await confirmation of this result. Another community member and a household contact are also undergoing diagnostic evaluation, and we await test results for these individuals. All three are under the care of physicians and nurses at Yale New Haven Hospital. I join all of you in the wish that they make a complete and speedy recovery from their illnesses. They are very much on my mind.

We are working to trace these individuals’ recent interactions with other people and communicate with them. We will—as Dr. Genecin writes—provide guidance as soon as possible to those who have had close contact with these members of our community.

Online Classes, and Students Remain Off Campus, for Balance of Semester

As this news highlights, the increasing intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic has required that we revisit decisions that seemed proactive when first announced just days before. On March 10, I let you know that through at least April 5, we would ask Yale College students to remain at home after recess and graduate students to remain off campus as much as possible, and that we would hold classes online using Zoom, Canvas, and other digital tools. It was my hope then that we might see a return to normalcy before the end of the semester.

With regret, and in consultation with Yale’s medical and public-health experts and other university leaders, I have concluded that an early return to the classroom is not possible. The clearest relevant lesson we have drawn from our best-informed, wisest sources is this: pandemics are defeated by bold measures that blunt the curve of the rate of infection through the dramatic reduction of intense human contact.

I have therefore decided that the measures we announced on March 10—keeping students off campus and moving teaching online—will apply through the full spring semester, including final examinations.

I hasten to note one vital exception: Yale will house those students who simply cannot go home, whether because they come from a country severely affected by COVID-19, or for other serious reasons. Deans and others have been or will be in close touch with such students—they and a great number of others are working around the clock to offer support worthy of Yale.

A special request to Yale College students: please refrain from coming back to campus right now to retrieve your belongings. Dean Marvin Chun and his staff will be in touch with you soon about making necessary arrangements.

I realize that today’s decision may be distressing to some. I am thinking in particular of those students who are finishing their time at Yale this semester. For them, the present anxiety is compounded by sadness over the loss of what should have been a warm, celebratory final semester. Please know that I share your disappointment. But also know that I, with other Yale leaders, will be thinking of ways we can, once COVID-19 is behind us, bring you back to campus to celebrate. It is too soon to say whether Commencement Weekend, scheduled for mid-May, will be carried out in the traditional way. But one way or another, we will come together in due time.

Staffing Considerations: New Guidance Through March 31

Yale is pivoting to serve, through the end of the semester, as a university providing online education to our students while keeping some research and other vital functions up and running.

On March 11, Vice President for Human Resources Janet Lindner informed all Yale staff of social-distancing measures to be implemented through April 15. Those measures remain in place. But given the increasing seriousness of the threat posed by COVID-19, we are taking a further step to decrease the number of people on campus and minimize contact among those who are here.

Effective Monday, March 16 through Tuesday, March 31, only staff whose work is deemed critical to current operations will be expected to report to work on campus. Staff not required to report to campus will be expected to support the continuity of operations of the university by working remotely if possible.

Critical functions include, but are not limited to, the following: patient care; research; network and data centers; public safety; student care; and select academic, administrative, and operational functions including, at present, those integral to the transition to online learning. Deans or their designates and department leaders will provide further information to their staffs indicating the units and individuals deemed critical through March 31.

Department leaders will inform staff members if they must report to campus. Those who are unsure if they should report to campus should reach out to their managers directly.

The university will provide further information on financial recognition to staff performing critical functions who are required to report to campus.  Bargaining-unit members required to report to campus will be compensated according to union contract provisions related to critical functions.

Staff reporting to work on campus should practice social distancing by not congregating in groups, maintaining barriers between work stations, and keeping approximately six feet of distance from others whenever possible.

We will continue to assess the situation each day, and before the end of March will announce policies affecting staff for April and beyond. If you are a member of the Yale staff and have questions, contact your manager, lead administrator, human resources generalist, or the Employee Service Center (203-432-5552).

In closing

Other Yale leaders and I will communicate frequently with you in the coming days and weeks. I remind you that Yale’s COVID-19 website remains our hub for news and guidance. Please consult this website for updates.

As we work through this time together, I ask you to take care of yourselves and each other—and to let Yale help you do that. Please continue to take precautions, self-monitor, and treat one another with great kindness and sensitivity. I will continue to stay in close touch with you.


Peter Salovey
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology