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USF reveals framework for fall semester with focus on health, safety amid COVID-19

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Posted at 6:30 PM, Jun 09, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — The University of South Florida revealed its framework for fall 2020 to the Board of Trustees Tuesday. University leaders said the plan is flexible and intentionally conservative, with a focus on the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

The board passed the draft proposal allowing the university president and board chairman to work together to further refine the plan before it’s submitted to the Florida Board of Governors on Friday.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of our students, our faculty and our staff and so we have developed a plan for re-engaging with in-person activities for the autumn semester," said USF President Steven Currall.

According to the draft proposal, the framework is broken into four phases.

The first phase allows up to 25 percent of staff to return, up to 50 percent in phase two and 75 percent in phase three. Phase three would also allow events with no more than 50 attendees. Phase four would allow all community members to return and operations to resume when CDC lifts social distancing guidance, herd immunity is achieved, or the rate of transmission is stable below 1 in the university’s six-county area.

University leaders said they hope to be at phase three in the fall.

Leaders said they planned to launch a public health awareness campaign.

The proposal also includes plans for student-athletes, reconfiguring spaces, physical barriers, policies encouraging teleworking, encouraging behavior in line with public health guidelines and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures.

Hand sanitizer will be made available, cloth face coverings may be issued and masks would need to be worn in shared spaces. Dining services will have enhanced cleaning, physical barriers at registers, capacity limitations and floor markings to physically distance. Residence halls will open at their design capacity.

Before people return, they will conduct a baseline survey on symptoms and experiences with COVID-19 to date.

“One of the strengths of our framework is flexibility. So this is essentially a contingency model that is designed to allow us to adjust to the epidemiological data that’s emerging in our region around all of our campus so we’ve got lots of flexibility built in, and can adjust to the developments as they emerge,” said Currall.

According to the proposal, students returning to residence halls will be asked to get tested. Students returning from outside Florida or from counties with a test positivity rate greater than 7 percent will also be asked to get tested, as well as a 10 percent sample of everyone else.

“That will be the baseline from where we begin,” said Donna Petersen, the dean of the USF College of Public Health and leader of the university’s COVID-19 task force.

Petersen said if someone tests positive, they’ll be counseled on the next steps. Isolation spaces have also been identified on campus.

“Once everyone’s back on campus or engaged in campus activities we will then survey them every day as to their health and any symptoms,” Petersen said, adding they’ll continue to select a random sample of 10 percent for testing.

In addition to people, the draft plan calls for sampling and testing surfaces frequently touched.

According to the proposal, students aren’t required to register for face-to-face classes and faculty and staff in high-risk categories aren’t required to teach face-to-face. After Thanksgiving break, classes and exams will move back online.

The provost said 32,000 students have already registered for classes this fall. They’ll be presented with a mix of face-to-face and online classes, as well as a flexible mix.

If someone doesn’t cooperate with the policy, students can be submitted to the student code of conduct office. Leaders said expectations will be communicated with students and faculty before they return to classes, and spelled out clearly in the syllabus.

“We’re trying to create a campus climate that promotes health and safety. In these extreme circumstances, we believe that we can insist on compliance with a certain broad set of behavioral elements of our strategy and we believe that it’s just good practice to try to create an environment where our students feel comfortable coming back to campus. Where their parents feel comfortable sending their young people to campus,” said Currall.

The funding for the fall plan is estimated to cost between $16-25 million.

“I’m very cautious about what I’m going to do. The main thing in my mind is what happens if there’s another outbreak, what happens if one person does the wrong thing then causes the virus to spread at USF,” said student Chris Miklaszewski.

The third-year student said in talking to his classmates, they want to make sure students are able to have a dialogue on the framework with the USF community and have enough communication.

He’d also like to see more frequent updates to the student toolkit and more information on what’s under consideration. He said it’s also important to consider work opportunities moving forward for students looking ahead in their careers.

“How do we go about these precautions consistently because like I said before it only takes one person to mess it up for everybody else. So I honestly like the idea USF was considering putting in not just precautions but also consequences for USF students because this is something we should be taking seriously. It's something we should be having increased dialogues on and I feel it's important for our input as well as faculty and staff,” said Miklaszewski.

Distinguished university professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch is one member of the USF community working to help slow the spread of COVID-19 off campus as well.

“Being able to identify the residence halls or floors where infections are occurring and make sure we take care of those students on the floors is going to be really important in helping contain the epidemic. A similar situation to what we’re doing by zip code across the entire county, but we’re doing it to buildings and residence hall floors here,” he said.

The professor helped launch a heat map, driven by community surveys, in several counties. It helps track where hot spots may be.

Unnasch said right now, the data shows activity in the neighborhoods west of campus. While he said initially they received up to 10,000 responses, but they have since waned. He’s asking people to fill out the survey again.

The university’s plan will be submitted to the Florida Board of Governors on Friday and presented to them later this month.

The detailed draft and PowerPoint presentation can be viewed here.