By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming will end its pause on in-person classes and resume its phased fall return plan Tuesday, university officials announced Monday.
This follows a pause of nearly two-weeks in efforts to return students to classroom that was prompted by an outbreak of coronavirus cases among the campus community. On Tuesday, the university will begin phase two of its return plan, with the start of face-to-face instruction of first-year seminars.
These classes were originally slated to begin in person on Sept. 7, along with some pharmacy and certain graduate courses. Students now allowed on campus include all of those allowed into university facilities during the first phase of the return plan, along with all first-year students living in residence halls, freshmen taking first-year seminars, all law students, students in the Literacy Research Center and Clinic and first-year pharmacy students.
Testing of employees and students on campus will continue as campus buildings gradually reopen in the near future.
During all steps toward full reopening this fall, everyone on the UW campus is required to wear face protection and practice 6-foot physical distancing, as outlined in the university’s COVID policy.
UW President Ed Seidel said in a news release the pause allowed the UW to more thoroughly review the test data it was receiving and take the action necessary to slow transmission of the virus.
“Now, we’re ready to resume the phased return plan, with additional measures in place to keep the campus as safe as possible,” he said. “For us to avoid another pause and proceed to the next phase Sept. 28, everyone — on campus or off — must adhere to those measures and avoid large off-campus gatherings where distancing and/or face protection are not employed.”
Seidel noted that while the traditional student-age population may not be as susceptible to complications from the coronavirus people of other ages, many of the members of the communities that support campus life include people at higher risk.
“It is UW’s responsibility to take into consideration all our community members in the requests of everyone to wear face protection, maintain distancing and follow safe practices at off-campus gatherings,” Seidel said. “For us to be successful, UW’s infrastructure has to be kept healthy, and it takes everyone to achieve this at the highest level possible.”
Since Friday, there have been 27 new cases of coronavirus reported among UW students and employees. All but four of them were detected in the university’s bridge testing program of asymptomatic individuals by Vault Health, which experienced a backlog of tests due to the Labor Day holiday and last week’s inclement weather.
Twenty of the new cases are students, while seven are employees. Three students living off-campus who were exhibiting symptoms, and one without symptoms, were found to be infected in tests conducted by external providers.
That brings the total number of active cases among the UW community to 93: 16 students living on-campus, 64 students living off-campus and 13 employees living off-campus. Some 175 people are in 14-day quarantine due to exposure to infected individuals: 27 on-campus and 148 off-campus.
The total number of coronavirus cases among UW students and employees since the pandemic began is 171.
“We know the virus is here, but we have been able to manage it in a manner that has kept our campus relatively safe,” Seidel said. “As the situation has changed rapidly and our understanding of the disease is growing, we’re developing new indicators and tactics to stay on top of it at UW. Everything we have done has one goal, and that is to be able to safely provide an in-person campus experience for the UW community.”
During the university’s next phase, scheduled for Sept. 28 through Nov. 20, all students will be welcome on campus, and courses will be delivered with a mixture of in-person and online instruction. In-person student activities will be expanded, and many campus buildings will be open, including Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.
The university will operate a surveillance testing program under which all students, faculty and staff who come to campus will take saliva tests at least once a week.
During phase four, scheduled for Nov. 23 through Dec. 11, all courses and final exams will be conducted online. Students will leave the residence halls, except for those granted exceptions.
Campus buildings will shift to restricted access, and the surveillance testing program will continue for those remaining on campus.