I am writing today to provide an update on the University of Oregon's fall planning efforts. As you know, our current plan is to provide a combination of in-person, remote, hybrid, and online courses in the fall, following very strict safety protocols and expectations. I review each of these later in this message to give you a full sense of the planning and health precautions.
However, we recognize that there is a rise in incidents of infection within the state and county, which is obviously a source of concern. In addition, a number of other universities with August start dates, as well as the UO's School of Law which is on a semester schedule, are beginning to announce their plans, which naturally raises questions about what the UO is doing (although our start date for all of the UO's other schools and colleges is more than a month later). I know that people are thinking about these factors, so I first want to outline our next steps should incidence of the virus continue on a path that would impact our current plans. I also have provided a summary of the status of our current in-person safety planning.
Criteria for in-person instruction
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a dynamic situation and, as such, our current plans for in-person instruction may need to adapt as public health conditions change in each of the counties in which our campuses operate. On or before August 26, the university will make a decision about whether to alter our plans and either more significantly reduce the number of in-person courses or transition to a fully remote model for the fall. This decision will be based on public health guidance and the following criteria:
- Indications of increasing community spread
- County reopening phase level
- Rate of county rapid testing turnaround times, and capacity for UO to provide testing to help sustain county needs
- Capacity of contact tracing and case management at health authority, for example Lane County Public Health (LCPH) in Eugene, including UO contact tracing resources assigned to support LCPH
- Implementation of protocols for enforcement of behavioral interventions, especially face coverings
- Capacity of on-campus self-isolation space for students living in University Housing
- Access to and availability of personal protective equipment needed to remain operational
- Ability to maintain proper levels of cleaning and sanitation
- Status of local K-12 schools and impacts on university personnel
If, by August 26, we do not have confidence in our ability to manage all of the conditions listed above, then the university will transition to a more limited operational status for fall. Since the law school starts earlier than the rest of campus, changes to their operational status may be made earlier than the rest of the university. Specific information about decision dates will be sent in a separate email to law school faculty.
My hope is that, even if we are compelled to offer fewer in-person activities, we will be able to preserve the progress that we have made on supporting our research operations and other professional support activities, such as access to offices and workspaces.
Safety plans for in-person instruction
If conditions allow for safe and responsible in-person instruction as described above, we will implement our plans in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon Heath Authority, and county health guidance. These measures are being implemented in consultation with the Incident Management Team, stakeholders across campus, the COVID-19 Employee Safety Reopening Committee, which includes employee and union representatives, members of the Office of the Dean of Students, and others.
The plan includes a variety of safety and planning measures related to university operations, individual responsibilities, case management, and other actions that have been or will be implemented and are described below.
University spaces and operations
The university has worked to adjust schedules, operations, facilities, and programs to create distance or barriers between individuals or to limit the likelihood of the virus spreading.
- Class size and scheduling – Fall classes have been scheduled as in-person only when the total occupancy in the classroom is no more than 50 people and allows for physical distancing (see below). Any classes of more than 50 have been scheduled as online, remote, or divided into hybrid cohorts with smaller groups of students alternating in-person and remote access. To allow sufficient time for classroom entrances and exits without crowding or contact, all classes were moved to block schedules with 30-minute transitions between classes.
- Physical distancing – Classes have been scheduled in rooms to allow 6-foot distance between all individuals. Computer-assisted design was used to map each classroom, identifying a maximum occupancy to maintain the 6-foot requirement. Each room has been physically inspected to confirm the model projections. To ensure appropriate distancing, 6-foot distances are being marked with floor stickers and furniture is being removed from rooms or zip-tied to prevent usage, depending on whether the classroom furniture is moveable or not. Other campus spaces such as the libraries, EMU, Student Recreation Center, and administrative offices are also being arranged or marked to help maintain 6-foot distances between people.
- Enhanced cleaning – Custodial crews are cleaning commonly touched surfaces (e.g., handrails, elevator controls, door handles, light switches) daily. This practice will continue into fall term.
- Increased air handling – Where possible, air handling systems are being adjusted to maximize the circulation of outside air within buildings. In the approximately 15 percent of systems that cannot be adjusted, measures such as opening windows and doors may be employed to increase air flow.
- Plexiglas barriers – There is ongoing installation of Plexiglas barriers on classroom lecterns where practical to allow instructors and students an additional level of protection. Plexiglas face shields have also been ordered for faculty members who choose to use them.
All members of the UO community are expected to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by keeping a safe distance from others, washing their hands, covering their cough, staying home when sick, and wearing face coverings.
- Face coverings – UO requires face coverings indoors and outdoors if social distancing cannot be maintained. Governor Kate Brown recently issued a similar requirement for the entire state of Oregon. The COVID-19 Employee Safety Reopening Committee and the Office of the Dean of Students, in consultation with student stakeholder groups, are developing guidelines for the implementation and enforcement of this requirement. I will share more information on those guidelines by August 26. While instructors should not be in the position of policing classrooms, it will be critical that all members of the campus community follow this measure.
- Health and wellness – UO has implemented a symptom self-check regulation that is consistent with health guidance. It requires employees and students who will be on campus to assess whether they have had any COVID-19 symptoms in the last 72 hours, and if so, they should not come to campus for a prescribed period of time.
- Student behavior expectations – The Office of the Dean of Students is developing a set of expectations for students for safe behavior and adherence to community norms. In addition, a team of faculty communications experts and university communications staff is developing a plan for effectively communicating these expectations to students to influence and encourage appropriate health and wellness behavior.
The university is supporting campus and community testing, along with contact tracing in collaboration with county health authorities.
- The university has developed its own nationally certified testing facility and is coordinating with LCPH on case management. Protocols are being developed in accordance with public health guidance. As protocols are finalized over the next month, I will share with you more information on these programs. In addition, the university is working in collaboration with LCPH to support their contact tracing efforts.
The university has also implemented a series of additional actions to support instructional and individual needs.
- Instructor support – Recognizing the incredible effort needed for instructors to move to fully remote instruction in spring term, additional training and resources were developed to support faculty and GEs. These supports included workshops, trainings, weekly updates and resources, and consultations. Additional resources will be added over the summer and throughout the next academic year.
- Online course offerings – We have begun an initiative to boost the number of course offerings online, beginning in the fall. The initiative started in the summer and includes adding as many as 150 courses by the end of AY 20-21
- Employee needs assessment – Faculty and GEs have now completed the HR survey and we developed our current fall class schedule based on the needs identified by faculty and GEs in the spring survey.
- Student needs – Students have been provided with a fall schedule that allows them to carry a full load without in-person classes should that be necessary for them.
- Technology upgrades – To prepare for potential increases in absenteeism, document cameras and microphones are being placed in classrooms to facilitate access to course material in the event of illness or quarantine.
I recognize the challenges that the uncertainty of the moment creates for each of you, and I appreciate your continued commitment to our students and the mission of the university. The pandemic is an ever-changing situation, and we are still several months out from having to implement a specific reopening plan and/or shift to an alternative approach. Again, this work is being conducted in consultation with the COVID-19 Employee Safety Reopening Committee, and we will keep in touch with timely updates as new information develops.
Expect to hear from us with updates on or before August 26 and again prior to the start of school. Again, thank you for everything you do.
Provost and Senior Vice President