In less than three weeks, University of Wyoming students will descend on Laramie for a fall semester unlike any other.
The campus where they will learn, study, and sometimes live will be radically different than before.
That’s the takeaway from a virtual ‘town hall’ hosted by university administrators Tuesday evening, during which President Ed Seidel and others laid out new procedures, programs and requirements for students tuning into the livestream.
“We are prepared for things to change,” Seidel said. “We will be guided by science and medical advice in order to have interventions to make sure we continue to be safe on the campus here.”
All students — as well as UW employees — will be required to perform a saliva test and receive a negative result before they are allowed to come back to campus. The test is free, but will have to be conducted during a Zoom appointment with an authorized supervisor.
“The goal of this testing is to establish a baseline of the COVID-19 prevalence in our UW community,” said Director of Student Health Services Mary Beth Bender.
Once on campus, students are required to log on to a website every morning before heading to class, library or anywhere else on campus.
The webpage, which is called CovidPass, will ask students to select from a number of CDC-identified COVID symptoms, as Dean of Student Ryan O’Neil explained.
“If you did not report any unexpected symptoms, or your reported symptoms don’t indicate a possible COVID infection, then you’ll receive a day pass that will allow you to come to campus for that day,” she said. “However, if your reported symptoms indicate a possible COVID infection, you will be asked to hold back on coming to campus and instead will be asked to self-isolate and to follow up with some guidelines that we will provide about contacting your healthcare provider for next steps.”
Additionally, Student Health is and will continue providing COVID testing to students.
“We’re going to be launching a very ambitious testing program to make sure that the campus is safe,” Seidel said. “And if there are any problems we encounter, we have determined various ways we can address them either by isolating students who may be found to have symptoms, or to quarantine students who have been found to have the virus.”
But the university’s precautions go beyond testing, Bender said.
“Testing alone cannot accomplish a safe return,” she said. “We are truly depending on our Laramie community, our campus community to commit to upholding those community standards — mask-wearing, social distancing, handwashing, and those responsible behaviors are really the key to preventing the spread of this infection.”
About 800 classes — or about 35% of those offered during the semester — have moved completely online, according to the town hall presentation, while the remaining 65% have at least some in-person instruction. Classrooms have been rearranged to allow for adequate social distancing, which means some students will be attending class in “rotations.”
Half Acre — the university’s recreation and fitness center — will be open, but students will be limited to 75-minute sessions. Students must reserve a time beforehand and the number of students allowed in during any given 75-minute session will be restricted, again to allow for adequate social distancing. A 15-minute break between sessions will be used to clean and sanitize the entire three-story facility.
The UW Cowboys are scheduled to have their first home game in early September, but that could change, Athletic Director Tom Burman said. If games do take place in War Memorial Stadium, the permitted crowd will be smaller and more spread out — 1,000 students, down from the more than 3,000 that could be found on any given gameday last fall.
The safety of the campus may, however, come down to personal decisions made each day by the people who share the UW campus — a commitment that will require college students to forego much of the social interaction that makes the university experience attractive.
“It really depends on people behaving in a way that respects the need to be safe in this environment,” Seidel said.
ASUW President Riley Talamantes urged students to speak up when their friends were not following public health guidelines and provided information about an online form where students can anonymously report risky behavior they see.
O’Neil said students not wearing masks or self-isolating when they start to show symptoms could be subject to disciplinary action.
“Instances of noncompliance — in other words, a refusal to align behaviors with the COVID policy requirements — will compromise that goal (of keeping campus safe) and increase the chance of disease transmission,” the dean of students said. “As such, we’re going to engage students in a conduct process because they pose a risk to the broader campus community. All UW employees are held to these same expectations.”
Throughout the pandemic, public health orders and directives have changed frequently, and the situation — both nationally and within the state — will undoubtedly change throughout the fall semester.
Vice President of Administration and Finance Neil Theobald said the university will also respond, in real-time, to the state of the campus.
“We are going to be very data-driven in this process,” he said. “Every day, we will convene a group of university administrators, leaders on campus to review a wide variety of data. And we are collecting that data every single day. We’re really trying to stay on top of this to the greatest extent possible.”