Updates on Spring 2021 COVID Safety Protocols

Chancellor Green with mask on, sitting at desk.

January 11, 2021

Dear UNL Students, Faculty and Staff –

Happy New Year – I hope you all enjoyed the holiday break and were able to rest and spend time with family and friends, even if remotely.

As we prepare for the beginning of our Spring semester later this month, I wanted to provide an update on our planning and our enhanced safety protocols for campus.

We remain guided, as we were last fall, by the priority of offering as much in-person education as we can safely provide. However, doing so safely in January will look different than it did in August. Our new safety measures are designed to meet the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide us with the flexibility to adapt as either conditions improve or new challenges emerge, and as vaccines become available.

Being Smart Before Returning to Campus
Students coming back to campus are encouraged to exemplify safe behavior, particularly in the 10 days before returning to campus. Avoid gatherings, wear your face covering, maintain good social distancing and if possible, voluntarily self-quarantine. This will help to guarantee your safety, the safety of our campus and the Lincoln community. It will also help ensure you are able to begin your in-person classes right away and have a successful start to your semester.

Each student must also complete the enhanced Cornhusker Commitment prior to the beginning of the Spring semester, which includes an affirmative pledge to comply with all testing requirements and to follow campus safety protocols. You will need to complete this prior to scheduling your re-entry test.

Re-Entry Testing and Safer Community App
As I mentioned in December, we have stood up the capacity for less-invasive and faster diagnostic saliva-based testing utilizing UNL’s Veterinary Diagnostic Center. Thank you to everyone in our UNL community who worked so diligently over the last two months to get this set up, and those who have volunteered to be redeployed to assist in these efforts.

Based on the direction of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD), all students, faculty and staff who will be on campus in the Spring semester are required to be tested via this convenient saliva-based testing twice as the Spring semester commences. Testing will begin the week of January 19-24 for the initial round of tests. It is very important that you take the earliest test possible in this window to help ensure access to campus when the semester starts on January 25.

You will soon be able to schedule your test through our new Safer Community application for iOS, Android and the web. A communication will be sent later in the week with details on how to download and use the app. A list of testing locations is now available on our COVID-19 website.

The Safer Community app will notify you of your test results, likely within 24 hours. Once on campus, be prepared to show the “Access Granted” Status Card on your app to any campus Wellness Attendant or university staff member who may ask to see it. Wellness Attendants and other staff members will be stationed across campus at academic buildings, campus recreation facilities and dining halls.

The Safer Community app will let you know the date when your next test result is due, likely around 10 days. Please schedule your second test at least one day prior to that date, to ensure your new results are posted and your access to campus buildings isn’t disrupted.

If you don’t own a smart phone, you can still schedule your tests on the website later this week and obtain your results online. Kiosks, located at the 17th and R parking garage on City Campus and the East Campus Service Building, will be available for you to print a pass noting your access granted status to show to Wellness Attendants.

Exceptions to Testing
Based on our ongoing conversations with the LLCHD, students living in Lancaster County who do not plan to be on campus at any time this semester will not be required to take part in the required re-entry testing. Those students will need to request an exemption, which can be done on our COVID-19 website.

Exemptions can also be requested by students, faculty and staff who meet any of the following conditions, even if you are planning to be on campus:

  • If you can provide documentation of a positive COVID-19 test within the prior 90 days. Once the exemption is approved, your Safer Community app status will remain with an “Access Granted” status until your 90-day window expires.
  • If you can provide documentation from a health-care provider that substantiates a medical reason for an exemption.
  • If you can provide documentation that participation in the testing program entails an especially burdensome hardship. Exemptions on this basis will be rare.

Students who are not residing in Lancaster County and are taking classes on a fully remote basis with no plans to be on campus in the spring, as well as faculty and staff who are not planning to be on campus in the Spring semester, are not required to be tested.

Suppliers, contractors, delivery companies and other third-party service providers are not required to be tested. However, they are required to abide by the university’s COVID-19 safety protocols, including the use of face coverings indoors and where social distancing is not possible outdoors, and all of UNL’s health and safety measures.

Going Forward
Once we have the results from the re-entry tests, a determination will be made in close consultation with LLCHD about what level of additional testing might be needed. This may include tests of particular subsets of the community that warrant additional testing. We will continue to adapt and adjust our testing as the semester progresses.

We continue to have free campus testing available for anyone who wishes to be tested, and strongly ask anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested – even if it’s in-between the two rounds of early required tests. The location of that testing pod is currently at East Memorial Drive and will be moved to outside of the Cather Dining Hall on 17th Street on Tuesday, January 19.

I know many of you have questions on when vaccines may be available. We are in conversations with LLCHD on a vaccination distribution plan for our UNL community. UNL and LLCHD will follow the State’s plan for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. The initial distribution of vaccine has been to health-care providers and emergency medical technicians. The next phase includes those employed in education positions but will take several weeks to roll out and will depend on vaccine availability. We will provide information to our community regarding the availability of vaccines on an ongoing basis and as soon as it is available.

Continuation of Previous Policies
As we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, those employees able to work from home are encouraged to continue to do so and supervisors are strongly asked to continue to show flexibility. I know it is not possible for many UNL employees to work remotely, and we all owe a tremendous thanks to the frontline workers in our community.

As noted by President Carter to all University of Nebraska campuses in December, the COVID emergency leave policy has been extended to June 30, 2021. More information on that is available on this site. UNL employees with higher risks or other factors are also still eligible to request an exemption from being on campus.


We are fortunate that the situation in Nebraska and Lincoln has improved in the past several weeks, although there has been an uptick in Lincoln in recent days. We want our UNL community to contribute to an improving situation, and these enhanced measures are meant to not just keep our campus safe but to also do our part to help keep Lincoln safe. We hope, if conditions continue to improve, that perhaps the ability to demonstrate an “Access Granted” status on the Safer Community app will enable us to offer more in-person opportunities on campus.

More information on our Spring safety measures, testing, updated quarantine guidance and many other topics, including FAQs, is available on our COVID-19 website. Screening, testing and communication resources for supervisors and staff have also been updated for the Spring. And anyone in our UNL community can also email any questions to covid19@unl.edu.

We begin 2021 with hope. We know this virus is unpredictable, the recent discovery of a more transmissible variant is proof of that. Yet our UNL community – students, faculty, and staff – have already proven we can adapt, be resilient and succeed beyond measure. As I look back on everything we have accomplished, including the completion of a Fall semester with on-campus education and ongoing groundbreaking research – I continue to be amazed.

In his words of advice to our December graduates, UNL alumnus Warren Buffett said there was no one he would rather be than a student graduating from UNL today. I couldn’t agree more and look forward to another successful Spring semester and to celebrating a new round of Husker graduates in May.

Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D.