While Florida businesses and institutions are trying to figure out how - and how fast - they'll reopen under Gov. Ron DeSantis' plan, universities are also discussing how they will bring students back to campus.
Like many others, the University of South Florida is looking at a phased approach.
During a Tuesday virtual Town Hall for students, System President Steven Currall said that USF’s goal is to reopen the three campuses for the fall semester.
“We’re very much determined to reopen in the autumn. We hope we’ll be able to do that, but we’ll do so in a way that is mindful of the health and safety of our faculty, and our staff, and our students,” he said. “It may require some adjustments that we’ll need to make in terms of the way that we gather, and the way that we hold classes, and the way that we maintain physical distancing, although at the same time maintain social solidarity.”
University officials say any moves will follow guidelines suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That may also mean that remote learning will not disappear anytime soon.
“We may have to adjust how our classroom spaces are utilized so, for instance, we may have to limit the numbers of persons in any one given space, in any one given time to make sure you can be appropriately distanced from each other,” said Dr. Donna Petersen, Dean of the College of Public Health and USF COVID-19 Task Force Chair.
“That might mean that some of the material needs to be delivered remotely while some of it can be delivered in a face to face environment,” she said, adding that other changes might include limiting the number of people in spaces such as dining halls and the library.
“It really comes down to the space. Accommodate the activity in a way that keeps everyone safe.”
Testing will also be a concern, because resuming activities means more exposure to the virus.
According to Dr. Joseph Puccio from Student Health Services at USF, the university will take the necessary precautions to keep the community safe.
“What we are looking to do when students are back on campus is to be constantly evaluating, looking for people that may show symptoms, so that we are able to reach out to those students immediately. Get them tested if they are symptomatic for COVID to get them isolated,” said Puccio.
However, as of now, the university has no timeline on when the activities on campus will resume.
Summer classes will be held online like the second half of the spring semester, with the difference being that students will not have the option of using pass/fail grading as opposed to regular grading.
According to Provost Ralph Wilcox, students and instructors have had the time to adapt to remote learning, so that option is not necessary.
Additionally, the university has been working on rebalancing student fees.
“We've gone so far as to pause all costs, related fees, material and supplying fees and facilities and equipment fees for the summer, which means that we fully expect many of our students will pay less in the summer of 2020 than they would in previous summers, recognizing full well that so many of our students and their families are facing financial hardship at this time,” said Wilcox.
Financial hardships have been one of the main effects of the public health crisis, with many students facing difficult economic situations.
To support them, the USF Foundation raised over $297,000 in April, which was awarded to 324 students from more than 1,400 applicants.
Now, USF has moved on to distributing the $17.4 million of federal funding it received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
USF launched an application process on the university website Monday for all eligible students.
Only those that have been impacted by COVID-19 through job loss, parental loss or unemployment, or unexpected circumstances, may apply. Priority will be given to students who have applied for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
International students are not eligible due to the federal requirements. However, the university is searching for other ways to support this community.
Currall ended the Town Hall meeting by giving some encouraging words to the student body.
“You are overcoming current obstacles and prevailing despite headwinds. Amid the uncertainty, there is one thing of which we can be sure: as a university community, we will emerge from this stronger than ever before,” he said.
The University of South Florida is hosting an online commencement on May 9 for the class of 2020.
As for other universities, University of Florida officials said they are considering testing 500 to 1,000 students a day for COVID-19 as the school looks at plans to reopen campus in the fall semester.
Steve Orlando, a spokesman for the university, said testing up to 1,000 students a day represents “one possible model under consideration” to allow students and faculty to safely return to campus.
“As we begin to plan and prepare for a gradual reopening of the university, we are exploring all options as part of a series of steps to welcome back faculty, staff and students to campus once local, state and federal guidelines allow us to do so and factoring in guidance from our elected officials and the (university system’s) Board of Governors,” Orlando said in an email Tuesday.
Orlando said any university plans will likely involve “data-driven efforts to rapidly test” to locate and isolate people with COVID-19.
All state universities shut down their campuses last month because of the virus, with students taking the remainder of their spring classes online.
Additional information provided by News Service of Florida
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