The University of Wyoming has released a more detailed plan of what partial closures might look like if the number of COVID-19 cases on campus spikes, as well as the “decision points” that could trigger changes this semester.
Representatives of the university administration and the consultants who have been hired to manage the school’s reopening plan presented a draft to the university board of trustees Thursday morning.
UW will have options for either a “targeted pause” or a “short-term closure” that are less drastic than the months-long closure of this spring.
These guidelines were developed by UW administrators with the assistance of Deloitte, an international consulting and accounting firm. Deloitte was hired to coordinate the university’s coronavirus response and provide updates when the situation evolves.
Deloitte charges the university up to $48,600 each week, in addition to travel fees and expenses, for five full-time-equivalent employees and access to the company’s subject matter experts, according to the firm’s contract with the university.
If there are multiple lab-confirmed cases, or potentially just one lab-confirmed case, or if members of the community are disregarding the requirements of the plan, such as mask-wearing, the university could go into a “targeted pause.”
Under this scenario, targeted areas of campus — individual buildings, floors or classrooms — could be closed for 3-5 days for cleaning. During this time, campus officials would consult with health officials to determine whether a broader closure or policy change might be necessary.
This step would not be triggered by some students displaying symptoms if they are not confirmed by a laboratory test as the coronavirus and if the cases do not appear to be part of a cluster on campus.
More serious restrictions, the “short-term closure,” could be triggered by a “significant increase” in the number of cases on campus, or by evidence of significant community spread. A surge of cases that surpasses the ability of the university or the local health system to take care of the infected people would also lead to these restrictions.
Under this plan, most on-campus teaching and work would shut down for up to two weeks, according to the documents provided to the board of trustees. The campus would undergo a deep cleaning, and professors have to prepare for a potential full shift to virtual instruction.
The plan also included more details of what will be expected for students, faculty and staff who are exposed to or infected with the coronavirus. People with symptoms will be required to isolate themselves until they have gone three days without fever and respiratory symptoms, or 10 days after symptoms appear, whichever is longer.
People who are exposed to a known case of the coronavirus will be “encouraged” to get tested, and close contacts will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Caregivers of coronavirus patients will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days after the patient’s symptoms end.
At their Thursday meeting, the board of trustees approved an addition to the mask requirements in the university’s reopening plan. Visitors to campus will now have to wear a mask, in addition to the students, faculty and staff who were already required to.
The trustees gave permission for UW administrators to make changes to the reopening plan without board approval. They will have to report any changes they make to the board on a weekly basis. This should allow the university to be more nimble in its decision-making as the situation develops during the semester, trustees said.
Requiring visitors to wear masks was not the first change to the reopening plan for which administrators had to get permission from the board. Trustees held a special meeting in June to approve a plan to allow 138 double-occupancy rooms on campus this fall.
Additionally, representatives of UW’s Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning discussed the opportunities the university has taken to improve virtual education this fall. To date, more than 200 professors and instructors have taken the Ellbogen Center’s crash courses on virtual education and “resilient course design” this summer.
Virtual education can be done successfully when the courses are designed for virtual instruction, but the rush online in the spring did not allow for that, said Christi Boggs, of the Ellbogen Center.
She gave an example of a flipped online classroom. In this example, a professor would post a recorded lecture or other materials online before the scheduled class time.
Then, during the period that otherwise might have been dedicated to a lecture, the students participate in activities that provide practice and an indication of how well they grasp the material.
If more professors learn these techniques this year, it could improve the quality of online education in Wyoming in future years, potentially expanding access to higher education across the state, Boggs said.
“I see this as an emergency situation with lots of opportunities,” Boggs said.