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Back to (almost) normal as students return to school

The U is getting closer to its usual back-to-school routine as far as COVID-19 is concerned.

Across the University of Utah, preparations are underway for students to return to campus for the Fall 2022 Semester. Residential housing is being readied, counselors are opening their schedules and professors are perfecting their lesson plans. Everywhere you look, the U is getting closer to its usual back-to-school routine, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, with just a few pandemic-related adjustments.

“We cannot wait to welcome students back to campus this fall,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Lori McDonald. “Nothing beats the energy and inspiration that comes during Weeks of Welcome as students, staff and faculty celebrate the start of a new academic year together.”

All students are invited to attend the Weeks of Welcome (WOW) celebrations beginning Aug. 16. The kick-off event is aimed at helping students connect with each other and find opportunities to get together. In the past couple of years, events like WOW were canceled or changed significantly in response to the pandemic. This year, students can make new connections as they gather together in person.

“Students should be excited about the opening of a new academic year,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Martell Teasley. “It represents a new beginning, a time of growth and maturity, reconnecting with friends, meeting new people and taking steps closer to the goal of graduation.”

To help students on their paths toward graduation, support offices in Student Affairs such as the Center for Student Wellness and University Counseling Center are working to find ways to provide greater flexibility and accessibility in their services—takeaways from lessons learned serving students in the pandemic who were nowhere near campus. The Counseling Center also provides mental health resources—a list is available online—for students at no additional cost.

With more students living in campus housing this year than ever before, including permanent student residents in the University Guest House, students who may test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to make a plan for isolating off campus. However, if that is not a possibility, this year, students will also have the option to isolate in place, which is a change that other similarly large universities are also adopting. If students need to get food while isolating, they can use mobile ordering or Starship, the robot delivery platform that delivers food to a designated location. More information about how Housing and Residential Education is responding to COVID-19 is available on their website.

In the classroom, updated, streamlined instructional guidelines are available for faculty members who might experience COVID or have exposure in class. While masking remains required in University of Utah Health facilities, in non-University of Utah Health facilities, indoor masking recommendations are based on current conditions and health department recommendations. If more than three cases occur in the classroom, in-person classes will be paused briefly to break the transmission cycle, after which time in-person teaching will resume. More information is available on the U’s coronavirus website.

As U employees continue to work on campus, COVID-19 contact tracing will continue through the fall semester. Employees are encouraged to self-report if they test positive for the virus, follow their health provider’s recommendations if they are sick and get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccinations will be offered on campus through fall break and at Employee Appreciation Day on Sept. 23. More information and guidance for employees are available on the human resources website.

COVID-19 may not be the only health concern facing the campus this fall or in the coming year. University leaders and University of Utah Health will be tracking any situations that may impact our community and will advise accordingly.