By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming will move into the third phase of its fall return plan on Monday and allow more on-campus classes and activities, the university announced Friday.
This comes just one day after the Mountain West Conference announced football would resume in late October.
During phase two, which began earlier this month, face-to-face instruction was only allowed for first-year seminars and some graduate classes, with all other courses being delivered online.
Beginning Monday, there will be a mix of on-campus and hybrid instruction. Campus buildings will be open to the fullest capacity possible and some in-person activities will be allowed to take place.
The UW coronavirus rules require everyone on campus to wear face coverings except when in private spaces, maintain physical distancing, use the COVID Pass tool, submit to regular coronavirus testing and to implement enhanced cleaning measures across campus.
“We are delighted to be in a position to begin providing a rich on-campus experience for many of our students. A great deal of effort has been made to get us to this point, and I express my deepest appreciation to everyone for making this possible,” President Ed Seidel said in the release. “But, in many respects, our biggest challenge begins now. In order to successfully have eight full weeks of in-person instruction and activity on campus, all of us must recommit ourselves to the basic behaviors that science has shown will limit the transmission of the virus.”
Testing, contact tracing and isolation/quarantine remain an important part of the phased return plan.
For the first two and one-half weeks of this phase, the university will continue to use its bridge testing program through Vault Health.
Students in on-campus classes, a sample of faculty members engaged in in-person instruction and many staff members working on campus will receive emails asking them to schedule weekly appointments to provide saliva samples at the sample collection site, which is being moved to the Wyoming Union Ballroom.
About 6,000 tests will be administered weekly until mid-October, when the university’s full surveillance testing program will begin. Under that program, students in Albany County and employees who are on campus and not able to maintain physical distancing will be required to be tested at least once per week.
Other employees will be able to opt in to the surveillance testing. Those saliva tests will be processed at UW’s Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, allowing for faster results.
“Our experience so far this semester has shown that robust testing, tracing and quarantine/isolation measures – combined with appropriate personal conduct – give us the best opportunity to avoid a major outbreak that would cause us to have to end our in-person experiences,” Seidel said. “This is one of the most advanced testing programs of any university in the country, and it will help us be safe. But it will only succeed if we all comply individually with the testing requirements – in the same way we follow the guidelines and requirements regarding face protection, distancing and appropriate gatherings.”
About 90 more students are scheduled to move into UW’s residence halls for this phase, bringing the total living on-campus to a little more than 1,000.
Along with faculty members teaching in person, many employees who support student services and UW facilities will be on campus for phase three, although some faculty and staff members will continue working remotely, where appropriate.
As of Thursday, there were 130 active cases of COVID-19 among UW students and employees which were detected through bridge testing, testing by UW Student Health Service and external providers.
The positive cases consist of 101 students living off-campus, 14 students living on-campus and 15 employees living off-campus. About 35 of those cases were to move from “active” to “recovered” in the next day.
Another 153 people are in 14-day quarantine due to exposure to infected individuals: 15 on-campus and 148 off-campus. The total number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed among UW students and employees since the pandemic began is 271.
The president noted that while the traditional student-age population may not be as negatively impacted by the virus as people of other ages, many of the members of the communities that support student life on-campus include people at higher risk of complications from the illness.
“It is UW’s responsibility to take into consideration all of our community members in the requests of everyone to wear face protection, maintain distancing and follow safe practices at on- and off-campus gatherings,” Seidel said. “For us to be successful, UW’s most important infrastructure has to be kept healthy. It will take everyone to achieve this at the highest level possible.”
During phase four, scheduled Nov. 23-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.