By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
For the first time in more than a year, the University of Wyoming will be fully reopened to students, faculty and staff this fall.
Improving coronavirus infection numbers, along with vaccine availability and acceptance, have made it possible for the University of Wyoming to move forward with plans for a traditional fall semester with in-person experiences and fewer restrictions, the university announced..
The UW Board of Trustees on Thursday adopted a resolution to fully reopen the university for the fall semester as long as officials are consistent in applying health policy guidelines and state and federal health directives. This will include allowing face-to-face classes at maximum capacity, face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and other activities and events.
Originally, the board wasn’t supposed to decide on fall semester plans until June.
“What we’re seeing with infection numbers and vaccine availability and acceptance has given us a high degree of confidence that we’ll have a pre-pandemic campus environment for the fall semester,” President Ed Seidel said. “Unless there’s a dramatic, unexpected development, such as an outbreak of some new dangerous COVID variant that is resistant to the new vaccines, we’ll be back fully in person this fall.”
As of Thursday, the total number of active COVID-19 cases among UW students and employees stood at eight: four students living off-campus and four employees living off-campus.
The percentage of samples testing positive in the university’s testing program has decreased from 0.34% at the start of the spring semester to 0.06% in the last week.
Additionally, coronavirus vaccines have been made available to all UW employees and are expected to be available to all students age 18 and over in Albany County in a matter of weeks.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone, and we’re so excited that our students will be back to the traditional campus experience this fall,” Board of Trustees Chairman Jeff Marsh said. “The board strongly supports a full reopening of the university and has heard loud and clear the concerns voiced by so many of our constituents throughout the state.”
Last week, the university announced that the significant decline in coronavirus cases and increasing vaccine availability prompted an adjustment to UW’s spring semester plan, allowing students and faculty the option of continuing in-person experiences throughout the semester.
Instead of asking students to leave UW’s residence halls and encouraging students to not return following UW’s abbreviated spring break from March 31-April 4, the university will maintain residential hall living as an option, as well as continue to offer student support programs and activities.
Some faculty members may continue with virtual lessons or convert to face-to-face classes through semester’s end.
Requirements for the wearing of masks, social distancing and COVID-19 testing will continue through the spring semester, including at the in-person commencement ceremonies May 14-15.
“We’re encouraged at the level of acceptance of the vaccines by members of the UW community,” Seidel said. “Whereas a month ago we weren’t sure if students would have access to vaccines until later in the summer, it’s clear now that the rollout will be much sooner than that. We’re counting on the level of vaccine acceptance to continue at a high level.”
For the fall semester, a much higher percentage of classes will be conducted face-to-face, and it is expected that distancing, gathering and testing requirements will be eased.
It’s not yet certain whether there will continue to be any requirement for face protection.
“While we will need to decide a few details later, we’re very confident in saying that students this fall can expect a much more traditional experience than we’ve been able to provide the past three semesters,” Seidel said. “In the meantime, we encourage everyone to continue following our requirements and public health guidelines, and especially to make sure they’re vaccinated, so that we can put the pandemic behind us.”