Following the plans of several other University of Wisconsin System institutions, UW-Madison released their plan for reopening campus for the 2020 fall semester during the pandemic.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent an email statement to UW students today introducing the university’s official reopening plan entitled Smart Restart — Planning for Fall 2020 and Beyond. The plan formally announces that UW students will return to campus September 2.
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Instructors will deliver courses in a hybrid of online and in-person instruction until Thanksgiving break. After break, the last nine days of instruction and final exams will be held virtually.
“This was a particularly difficult decision, as we recognize the strong desire to return to something close to normal,” Blank wrote in her reopening message to campus. “We believe this is the prudent choice given the likelihood that students leaving and returning to Madison over the Thanksgiving recess would increase the risk for infections on our campus.”
The Smart Restart plan also confirmed students can live on campus this fall. University Housing is currently developing new safety measures and policies for residence hall living, the plan said. Students who cannot return home after Thanksgiving break will be permitted to live in the residence halls.
Though, residence halls will have a no-guest policy and rooms will mostly be limited to two people per room, the plan said. In an online meeting with media outlets today, Blank said triples and quad rooms will not be utilized. After modeling was completed, Blank said the infection risks with one versus two people per room did not make much of a difference in the spread of the virus.
Additionally, only housing residents and staff can use the dining halls. Dining will have more “grab and go” options available to students in the residence halls in order to reduce contact.
The Smart Restart plan also states instructors will deliver large classes with more than 100 students and some with 50-100 students through solely remote instruction. UW is working to ensure smaller classes and discussion groups will remain in-person, while also hosting virtual options for students who cannot join in person.
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“Many classes and discussion sections will be in person, but in larger classrooms than in the past to allow us to provide physical distancing between students,” Blank wrote in the statement. “Because we have somewhat fewer larger classrooms on campus, students and faculty can expect changes to class schedules so we can ensure that classes are held in classrooms that allow for physical distancing.”
The plan specifies that to accommodate physical distancing for larger in-person classes, many schedules will have to change or expand. Students may have more evening and Saturday classes. Additionally, the statement said students don’t have to attend classes in-person on campus, and UW is working to make course options for every major available through online learning.
Another major component of the plan relies on testing and adherence to strict guidelines. Blank said testing will be a large piece of the puzzle to keep campus safe, and UW has prepared a three-part testing plan. On campus, there will be free drop-in testing centers.
Additionally, UW will engage in “surveillance testing” of the whole campus. Blank said this form of testing will entail asking students to voluntarily get tested on a regular basis to determine whether or not the virus is spreading.
“Surveillance testing will track the prevalence of the virus on campus, including among those who are asymptomatic,” the Smart Restart website states. “Volunteer cohorts of 10 people will be tested on a rotating basis, with up to 2,000 people tested each week.”
There will also be special targeted testing for certain groups, including housing residents and staff. All indoor spaces on campus will require face coverings, and so will outdoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
Blank specified in today’s online media briefing that UW will be taking special care through marketing and information campaigns to ensure students wear masks to protect not only themselves, but others.
“I expect every classroom this fall at the top of their syllabus, to say if you want to be in this class in-person, if it’s an in-person class, we expect you to be masked,” Blank said in the meeting. “And if you are not willing to wear a mask when you come to class, there will be a whole variety of non in person classes that you could participate in instead.”
UW has not yet discussed changing any of the segregated student fees for the fall semester, according to the media briefing. Blank said she “does not believe there will be any changes in student fees,” as most services will be operating in different capacities across campus. Though, Blank said UW has not made decisions about fees for students who do not return to campus.
UW is currently working with different partners in the Dane County public and private sectors to ensure public health guidelines will be met outside the campus community. This includes local restaurants, bars and Greek life organizations, according to Blank and other administrative leaders at the media briefing.
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The website said more detailed information will come out as the planning continues. UW is still in the process of deciding how to conduct various events relevant to student life activities, including the Wisconsin Union, health care, student organizations, recreation programs and athletic events.
The information released to the campus community and the public today was just the beginning, according to Blank.
“I want to emphasize today’s announcement is just the beginning,” Blank said in the media briefing. “Reopening is a very complex process with a lot of moving parts, and it’s going to require changes to virtually every aspect of our operations … we’re prepared to adjust our plans in response to what is a continuously evolving situation.”
Students are encouraged to send questions to [email protected] or call Campus and Visitor Relations at 608-263-2400
This article was updated on June 17 at 3:15 p.m. to reflect new information regarding a media briefing with Chancellor Rebecca Blank and other campus administrative leaders.