By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
With the start of the spring semester just one week away, University of Wyoming students returning to campus are reminded that a limited contact period begins Thursday and extends through Jan. 31.
Additionally, students and employees are expected to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance upon returning from winter break, including reducing nonessential activities for up to 10 days and being tested for the coronavirus three to five days following their return to campus.
The semester will begin with two days of online-only instruction Jan. 21-22, and face-to-face classes will start Jan. 25.
For students living on campus, the residence halls will open Tuesday, with students arriving on assigned dates between then and Jan. 24.
Students living off campus should take a coronavirus test before returning to in-person classes or activities on campus.
During the limited contact period, students are allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements and be outside but are expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.
“These measures are necessary to give us a chance to be successful in providing a safe face-to-face engagement on campus amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Cases are on the rise again in Wyoming and across the country, and it is important we do our part to mitigate that spread,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We’re very hopeful that, with vaccines being administered to targeted populations now and wide administration expected by this summer, our fall semester will be much more in line with pre-pandemic practices.”
As was the case during the fall semester, UW will continue measures throughout the spring to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a rigorous testing, quarantine and isolation program, requirements for face protection and physical distancing and limits on gatherings.
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 need to receive testing exemptions. Students living on campus, working on campus and taking in-person classes are automatically included in the testing program and will receive emails to schedule their tests once the semester begins.
Undergraduate students who are part of the surveillance program will be tested twice per week. 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.
The spring plan approved by the UW Board of Trustees calls for a 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.
In addition to the abbreviated March 31-April 4 spring break, no classes will be held on Presidents Day, Feb. 15.
Starting April 5, all classes will move to online delivery, with the final day of classes May 6 and finals week will take place May 10-14.
The university is working with the Wyoming Department of Health and Albany County Public Health 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.
It’s uncertain when all 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: to help minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission that would be caused by students leaving campus and then returning.
While close to 40% of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring, up from the historical 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.
Under the plan, the university continues to track and monitor a set of key indicators of coronavirus 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.
Since the pandemic began, UW has reported a total of 1,865 cases of COVID-19 among its employees and students, with 1,846 people recovered.
As of Thursday, there are 19 active cases: one on-campus student, nine off-campus students and nine employees.