By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a plan for the spring 2021 semester that includes 10 weeks of in-person instruction, a three-day spring break and five weeks of fully online classes to conclude the term.
The semester will begin with two days of online-only instruction on Jan. 21-22, and face-to-face classes starting Jan. 25.
Following an abbreviated spring break that will run March 31-April 4, all classes will move to online delivery, with the final day of classes set for May 6 and finals week to be held May 10-14.
Working with the Wyoming Department of Health and Albany County Public Health, UW will implement an emergency shift to fully remote instruction and student programming with limited in-person operations, or to take other actions, if warranted by major changes in conditions.
To mitigate the impact of possibly infected students returning to campus from across the country and beyond, the plan includes a “limited contact period” for students Jan. 14-31. During that period, students will be allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements, and be outside, but will also be expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.
As was the case during the fall semester, UW will continue measures throughout the spring to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including rigorous testing, quarantine and isolation programs, requirements for face protection and physical distancing and limits on gatherings.
“Based upon our experience in the fall semester and our testing program, which is one of the most advanced in the nation, we are confident that we can be successful with an on-campus experience in the spring semester,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “But our success depends upon compliance with our testing protocols and other requirements. We’re counting on all members of the UW community to do their part.”
The university intends to make coronavirus vaccines available as soon as possible to mitigate transmission of the virus and allow the other preventative measures to be more effective. However, it’s uncertain when students and employees will have access to the vaccine.
As a result, the move to online-only course delivery following spring break follows the same rationale for the decision to go online during the fall semester following Thanksgiving break this semester.
“We reinstituted a spring break in response to many requests by our students,” Seidel said. “We would have liked to plan for a full semester of in-person instruction but, considering the uncertainty about the timing of the vaccine and about the extent of the pandemic at the end of March, we think it prudent, at this point, to not bring students back after spring break.”
Additionally, no classes will be held on Presidents Day, Feb. 15.
While close to 40% of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring, up from the usual figure of 15%, about 60% are planned to include in-person components during the Jan. 25-March 30 period.
The in-person classes will continue to be held in classrooms that are arranged to meet physical-distancing requirements, along with enhanced cleaning measures.
“We expect the spring semester will look much like the fall semester and, as a result, we understand it will present difficult circumstances for many of our students,” Seidel said. “Our spring plan puts a particular emphasis on student emotional health and well-being. We are dedicated to making sure they have the support and services they need to be successful.”
Students, faculty and staff coming to campus or returning to work will be required to participate in UW’s surveillance testing program, using UW’s laboratory-developed, saliva-based tests.
Students not returning to campus at any time during the semester will not be required to participate, but they need to receive testing exemptions.
For students moving into UW’s residence halls, coronavirus testing will be required the morning of their move-in date. For students living off-campus who plan to participate in on-campus activities, testing will be required the first week of classes beginning Jan. 25.
Students who return early to campus for university-sanctioned activities will be required to test upon arrival.
For employees who are returning to work after being away from campus, testing will be required the week before their return to on-campus work.
Those returning directly after the winter break will be tested during that week and self-isolate as much as possible until a negative test result has been received.
Employees who plan to work from home or fully self-isolate on campus throughout the semester will not be required to take part in surveillance testing.
Undergraduate students who are part of the surveillance program will be tested twice per week, while graduate students and employees will be tested once per week.
UW employees and students will continue to be expected to use the COVID Pass tool daily to self-screen for coronavirus-like symptoms. Those who are noncompliant with the testing requirements will receive a “red” flag similar to an individual with symptoms, restricting access to campus.
Under the plan, the university will continue to track and monitor a set of key indicators of COVID-19 prevalence on campus to support data-based decision making. These include the total number of symptomatic cases among students and employees; testing sample disease prevalence; capacity for isolation and quarantine; and hospitalizations.
There are no automatic actions to be triggered by hitting certain indicator thresholds, but UW will continue to coordinate closely with state and local authorities to assess conditions in the community and determine appropriate interventions.
Since the pandemic began, UW has reported a total of 1,812 cases of COVID-19 among its employees and students, with 1,797 people recovered.
As of Wednesday, there are 15 active cases: two on-campus students, 10 off-campus students and three employees.
With the end of the fall semester last week, only a small number of students remain in UW’s residence halls, and many traditional-age students who were living off campus in Laramie have returned to their homes around the state, the country and beyond.