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President Nellis shares updates for Fall Semester Phase 2

Published: September 8, 2020 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with the main campus community:

Dear University Community:

It goes without saying that we are living though unpredictable and unprecedented times. The trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, but one constant you can count on is Ohio University’s strong focus on the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff while continuing to provide a high quality transformational educational experience.

I recognize that many of you have been patiently anticipating notification about the University’s plans for Phase 2 on the Athens campus, which will begin Monday, Sept. 28. Although I know some of you may have been hopeful of a complete re-opening of our campus, we have determined that with Phase 2, while increasing the number of students we are bringing back to our residence halls and University community,  we must still continue to proceed with  a more careful approach for the remainder of fall semester to protect our campus community and the City of Athens during these uncertain times.

Phase 1 helped serve as a test of OHIO's procedures and protocols that were established with public health experts over the summer. While our reduced campus density during Phase 1 and the safety protocols that we have implemented have helped to minimize risk, available public health data does not support a resumption of full operations this fall.

Phase 2 Approach

The Phase 2 decision was made in consultation with our Chief Medical Affairs Officer and Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations, as well as Athens County Health and Medical Directors, while leveraging available public health data to guide our next steps. University health leaders were advised by significant input from our faculty and staff community.

We have determined that we can best manage risk to our Athens campus community by  implementing a model that carefully increases the number of students, access, and engagement on campus but with a commitment to a lower density model that helps enhance opportunities for safety.  At least 7200 students, representing approximately 31% of Athens campus undergraduate enrollment and 100% of Athens-based graduate and medical school enrollment, will be invited to the Athens campus during Phase 2. Total participation in Phase 2 is subject to change based on student choices and exception processes for students with extenuating circumstances. Other students will continue to have robust educational programming and specialized engagement activities virtually.

As we’ve worked to plan this next phase as safely as possible, the Ohio University Fall Curriculum Scenario Group, as well as deans, department chairs and directors, and faculty members have prioritized eligibility for students engaged in academic experiences that require access to in-person instruction, specialized equipment, or specific facilities to ensure academic progress toward degree requirements.

Later today, undergraduate and graduate students with Athens campus enrollment will receive an official email notification regarding the status of their eligibility to return to the Athens campus in Phase 2. Housing and Residence Life will communicate directly with eligible Phase 2 students regarding housing assignments, dining plans, and move-in details.

Although many students included in Phase 2 will have some face-to-face academic experiences, a majority of courses will continue in an online modality, even for those students included in Phase 2. Any student who has already arranged a fully online semester may choose to continue their studies remotely. Some Phase 2 classes will provide a remote option, and for some classes, in-person attendance may be required.

Based on the advice of key health officials, the need to carefully manage density on campus is driven by the number of quarantine and isolation rooms we can provide on our campus and the overall capacity for asymptomatic and symptomatic testing available, layered with scientific models for the spread of disease and demand for quarantine and isolation over time.

Over the coming weeks, dedicated faculty will continue to adapt courses as necessary to optimize dynamic remote learning opportunities during Phase 2. Students should check Blackboard and their Ohio University email account regularly for latest updates, including messages from instructors about how Phase 2 will be implemented in each class.

Students not included in Phase 2 will continue their courses remotely through the fall semester. In every modality and location, OHIO students have opportunities for meaningful engagement with their peers, faculty, staff, and communities. For first-year students, for example, your virtual learning community will continue to focus on academic success and helping you develop Bobcat connections. For first-year students not currently enrolled in a learning community, the Office of First Year and Student Transitions (FYrST) will offer an additional student transition seminar for students who feel they may need additional support to prepare for success. Interested students should contact the FYrST office by September 13 to become enrolled. Resident Advisors will also continue to engage virtually with students throughout the fall semester, and students can participate in our 600+ student organizations by setting up a profile in Bobcat Connect.

Testing and Safety Requirements 

In order for us to be successful during Phase 2, it will be essential for students on- and off-campus to follow all guidance for wearing facial coverings, maintaining physical distance, limiting the size of any gatherings, conducting their daily self-assessment, and reporting all cases of COVID-19 through our COVID-19 Incident Report.  Any student or employee experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should also call the Ohio University COVID-19 Response Hotline, 877-OU-COV19 (877-682-6819).

We ask all students, faculty, and staff to familiarize themselves with the requirements outlined in our Presidential Health Directives, which enable the University to take appropriate action to address infectious disease, epidemics, pandemics, and other threats to the health and safety of persons associated with Ohio University.

Also during this time, students are required to complete an online learning module that serves as an overview of COVID-19: what it is, its symptoms, and best practices for staying safe. We also ask every member of the University community to acknowledge the OHIO Pledge, indicating that they will do their part to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The pledge asks all Bobcats to commit to observe heightened health and safety precautions in the coming academic year.

All Phase 2 students returning to campus are expected to observe a 14-day period of social distancing at their permanent residence before they arrive in Athens or on campus. During this 14-day period, students are expected to monitor their health daily, reduce contact with others and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

On campus, students are required to complete a daily COVID-19 symptom assessment and follow all appropriate health and safety protocols to help stop the spread of disease.

Looking Ahead

As we continue to responsibly increase density on campus, the University is working to implement a new testing strategy that will allow us to screen students who are not exhibiting any symptoms. I hope to share additional details about this in the coming weeks.  Students will be expected to participate in asymptomatic testing when invited to participate in surveillance or exposure-based testing.

We will also launch a new dashboard in the coming days to help us understand trends and respond to changing conditions, and we will monitor the positivity rate through our testing strategy, quarantine and isolation room use, and infection rate in our residence halls in our decisions regarding our ability to continue with Phase 2.

Pandemic and public health conditions, along with our collective success for the rest of fall semester, will inform decisions about spring. While we hope that conditions will permit a robust in-person experience at every location, we must continue to monitor health risks to our campuses and communities in the coming months. We'll work to effectively mitigate those risks wherever possible, and we will keep students and families informed of our spring plans as they develop.

Given different circumstances we would, of course, want everyone back on campus. However, based on the public health realities during this unprecedented time of a global pandemic, our current path is the best one to most effectively protect everyone in our Ohio University campus community. Please continue to stay safe and show your care and support for one another by doing your part to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Kind regards,
M. Duane Nellis