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Fall Semester 2020

New Rules as of Septembre 9

In preparation for the upcoming semester, which will start on September 14, and for the student welcome days starting on September 9, the Rectorate has decided to adapt the protection plan with regard to the wearing of masks within and out-side classrooms and auditoria. on a weekly basis. One cohort will attend classes on-site, while the other follows the class from home.

It has also adopted principles that regulate students’ presence on campus. Classes will be delivered simultaneously to two cohorts that will alternate 

The following message details the new rules which will take effect from September 9 (Part 1) and the reasons why they have been adopted (Part 2).

Part 1: Which rules apply from September 9 ?

The following rules will come into effect on Wednesday September 9 and will apply to the entire university community (staff and students):

1. The flow of people within the University needs to be limited, and the maximum capacity of classrooms must be reduced as a protective measure. To achieve these goals, one seat out of two will be off-limits in classrooms, and students will be divided into two weekly cohorts. Each cohort will have access to in-person courses for one of two weeks, while the other cohort will follow the course from home. Students will be assigned to cohorts according to the last digit of the student number. If the last digit is an odd number, the student will attend in-person courses during odd weeks (i.e. the first week of the semester, the third week, etc.). Students with even digits attend in-person classes in even weeks.

This rule applies categorically to all courses during the first two weeks of the semester (Monday September 14 to Friday September 25).

The welcome sessions for new students organised by the Faculties are exempt from this rule and will accommodate all the students that are concerned. After September 25, the Faculties may decide on a return to in-person attendance for a limited number of courses, according to the following cumulative conditions: i) the protection plan is respected; ii) student numbers are small; and iii) the course's pedagogical goals require in-person attendance.

2. The wearing of masks will be obligatory wherever a distance of 1.5 meters between individuals cannot be assured at all times.

3. In spaces with a high concentration of people (corridors, entries, libraries, cafeterias etc.), you have to wear a mask while you are moving about. The mask may be removed when you are seated as long as the 1.5-meter rule is respected.

This obligation applies to the Main Building (Premier-Mars 26), faculty buildings (Tilo-Frey, UniMail, Breguet 1, Breguet 2), other buildings where courses take place, and during field activities. In buildings with administrative functions only, the wearing of masks will be obligatory when moving around if the concentration of people makes it impossible to keep a distance of 1.5-meters. The wearing of masks is not obligatory for staff in their workspaces, as distances or protective measures have been adopted and guaranteed.

4. Within classrooms and auditoria, masks will be obligatory while entering and making one’s way to a seat.

A three-colour code will be applied to facilitate the respect of distancing rules:

a. People who enter a room must occupy green seats first. These guarantee a 1.5-meter distance from others. The wearing of masks is not obligatory if everyone is seated and only green seats are taken.

b. If all green seats are taken, yellow seats may be used. Once a yellow seat has been taken within a given room, the 1.5-meter distance is no longer assured, and the wearing of masks is obligatory.

c. In rooms where seats are fixed and cannot be removed, the red seats are off-limits and may not be used under any circumstances. In other rooms, there are no red seats.

d. The system implies that the layout of rooms with movable furniture must not be altered (tables and chairs should not be moved).

5. Teachers are not required to wear masks as long as a 1.5-meter distance separates them from students. If this cannot be guaranteed, other protective measures accounting for the room’s layout may be considered (contact the Buildings, Environment and Safety Service).

6. A QR code system will be put in place to collect the contact details of students present in classrooms, so as to adhere to the Federal Regulation on measures designed to combat the COVID-19 epidemic in special situations.

7. In addition to these institutional protective measures, the University of Neuchâtel recommends that all members of the university community and anyone else on campus download and activate the SwissCovid application.

Part 2 - Why these rules ?

Last semester, the University’s strategy was to re-orientate towards distance teaching and to organise a digital exam session in order to prevent having to cancel the semester. For the coming semester, our strategy aims to offer as many in-person classes as possible, while limiting the health risks posed to members of the university community and, consequentially, the risk that the health authorities might place our institution under undifferentiated quarantine measures.

This implies a strategy with three stages:

Stage 1: Reduce attendance on campus.

By reducing the capacity of rooms and dividing the students into cohorts at the beginning of the semester, when university attendance is at its highest, we can limit the number of people who are present on campus at the same time. As such, the pressure on common spaces (classrooms, study rooms, cafeterias etc.) can be alleviated. This solution is adjustable according to the situation. Our experience during the first two weeks of the semester will allow us to move gradually towards more in-person attendance, or it might necessitate the decision to switch to fully remote teaching if the authorities demand the closure of the University.

Stage 2: Respect distance wherever possible and provide easy-to-follow rules on the wearing of masks.

In seated areas, colour-coded seats in classrooms provide an easy way to ensure that distancing rules are respected, and to see at a glance when masks are required. Teachers are not required to wear masks, so as not to make comprehension difficult within the room, thus improving the quality of the learning experience. The requirement to wear a mask in high-circulation areas within buildings is similarly conceived. An adjustable solution has been put in place, whereby the obligation to wear a mask in common spaces is tied to the effective concentration of people. If the concentration is high, a mask has to be worn.

Stage 3: Contact tracing.

Unlike mandatory schooling and post-mandatory education, where classes are defined a priori and teaching provides a means of monitoring attendance, the university practice of registering for courses on Moodle does not establish who actually attended a given session. We intend to maintain this principle, despite the particular measures which must be applied. Contact tracing by QR code will guarantee that data protection is respected; the data will not be used to monitor attendance and it will only be transmitted to the Cantonal Physician if he makes a request that is justifiable according to the federal legislation on epidemics.

If, notwithstanding our adherence to Stages 1 and 2, the Cantonal Physician decides to impose quarantine on the members of the university community, Stage 3 (contact tracing) will allow this quarantine to be limited to those who have come into prolonged contact with an infected person. With these measures, we hope to ensure that you are protected to the greatest possible level while reducing the likelihood that you will be subjected to a large-scale quarantine.

Please note that these rules are based on the current health situation in the Canton of Neuchâtel and may be changed as the situation evolves.

We count on you to work with us, and we thank you for your help in putting these measures into practice.

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