As fall semester approaches, I want to bring you up to date on our plans, which have evolved over the summer as we gained new insights about COVID-19 and guidance from our state leaders and health experts.
The pandemic has disrupted our lives, our economy, and our sense of safety and well-being in myriad ways and is truly testing our collective stamina. Many of you have experienced the virus’ impact at a very personal level and our hearts go out to you. It is our hope—with more than 120 researchers at the U alone hard at work on this challenge—that we will continue to refine ways to control and treat COVID-19 and, ultimately, to prevent the disease.
All of us at the University of Utah are working to operate our campus in a way that safeguards the health of our students while providing the quality educational experiences we are known for. There is no question this coming semester will be different, but we remain committed to the valuable learning that happens on our campus—educationally and socially. We believe that on-campus engagement truly matters and we are committed to making that experience available to the greatest extent possible, especially for our first-year students. We also are prioritizing our efforts to help our seniors complete their degrees so they can advance their careers and pursue advanced educations.
As one of America’s leading research universities, the work of our institution must go on as we have a vital role in solving the health, economic, and social justice issues our country and our world are facing.
That said, this virus has proven relentless and persistent and we are prepared to be flexible and adapt our operations as necessary going forward. With that in mind, here are some things you should know.
- On Aug. 5, we launched a revised website that will be the best source of information for you. The website is coronavirus.utah.edu. It is designed to answer questions in a simple to navigate format and will be updated as needed.
- The website includes a checklist of things students should do before and as they begin the year, as well as an A to Z reference guide. This guide provides answers or connects to resources that address topics ranging from course formats, dining services, access to recreation facilities and financial aid.
- Fall Semester 2020 will begin Aug. 24 and continue to Nov. 25 with no fall break. All classwork will shift to fully online from Sept. 28 to Oct. 9 and then resume in their original formats until Nov. 25. After Thanksgiving break, classes will again shift to fully online only for the remainder of the semester.
- This schedule includes a slight modification to the fall calendar based on recommendations of epidemiologists from U of U Health. We have added an additional week of fully online instruction, beginning Sept. 28, for two reasons. We hope this longer pause will serve as a circuit breaker to help reduce spread of this coronavirus. And, as you may know, the University of Utah will host the vice presidential debate at Kingsbury Hall on Oct. 7 and a portion of our campus will be closed for this event.
- We have developed an approach to instruction for fall semester that includes in-person, interactive video courses, asynchronous and synchronous online courses, and courses that combine these formats. A fully online course load is an option for students who choose not to be on campus and that may be the best decision for some individuals. Our in-person scheduling priorities are labs, practicums and studio courses that provide essential experiential education; key first-year courses offered by each college; and classes with fewer than 50 students held in rooms large enough to accommodate physical distancing.
- All students, staff and faculty are expected to complete an online training that reviews health safety precautions related to COVID-19. The student training will be available Aug. 17.
- Among other measures, we are requiring use of face coverings on campus, physical distancing and basic hygiene practices and we have prepared an extensive array of materials to educate our campus community about these health safety measures.
- Any student may pick up a complimentary face covering, which they can add to their personal supply, at the Union Building, the Eccles Student Life Center, Gardner Commons and the Sandy Center. Housing & Residential Education will distribute them upon check in for students living in the residence halls.
- The university will be cleaning high-use spaces and high-touch surfaces frequently. We also have installed clear plastic barriers at most customer-service counters and are providing hand sanitation stations inside main building entrances and near the doors to classrooms and labs. Our facilities team has increased the number of air changes in buildings and is using high-efficiency air filters to provide good ventilation. We also are creating traffic flow patterns to limit bottlenecks at entrances, exits, and in hallways.
- The university has reduced occupancy in residence hall rooms and is adopting protocols to limit capacity in common spaces such as libraries, computer centers, and the Eccles Student Life Center.
- All students living in residence halls will be tested for COVID-19 upon their arrival in August. We have developed a plan to track cases and conduct contact tracing going forward, which you can read about in more detail here.
- We are asking students to avoid large gatherings of 20 or more people—both on campus and in the community—which are known to be a primary way this highly contagious virus spreads. This is a challenging ask of our students who are excited to meet new people and engage in a full college experience, but this will be crucial in our ability to protect the health of our campus community and stay open this fall. We hope you will help us reinforce this vital message to your student.
We are taking many precautions to limit the spread of the virus and we are prepared to be flexible and adapt our operations as necessary. We know we will experience cases of COVID-19 on our campus in fall 2020 and we are monitoring key metrics that matter to guide our decisions (see “Testing, tracing and metrics” box on the website).
Like you, we are disappointed we are not able to engage immediately in the full, on-campus experience that makes going to college a life-changing time in a young person’s life. We look forward to being able to come together soon and, in the meantime, we are encouraged by the creative ways we have learned to engage as a community through virtual and distanced strategies.
Our students, staff, and faculty have responded with remarkable understanding, patience, and flexibility to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes to our campus operations. We know we will be able to count on that same resilient spirit during fall semester, as we strive to be a community that focuses on collective well-being.