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(Portions of this article first appeared Nov. 11 in the Casper Star-Tribune and were written by Star-Tribune reporter Morgan Hughes, and sent via the Wyoming News Exchange.)

First, news was the University of Wyoming football game vs. the Air force Academy was canceled. Then on Wednesday, Nov. 11, word came down that the University of Wyoming was, for all intents and purposes, shutting down. It terminated the move as a transition to Phase 4 of its fall semester starting Nov. 16, a week earlier than scheduled. That means all courses will move to fully online instruction starting this Monday.

All this due to a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among the UW community and in the state. At the same time, the university is encouraging students to depart for the Thanksgiving break as soon as they receive negative test results this week, with faculty directed to provide virtual options to complete courses and exams for students who choose to leave early.

“With our case numbers and test positivity rates rising rapidly, we are taking this action to reduce the risk of students taking the virus back to their homes and infecting family members and others,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “This will allow students to make decisions about when to return home that are best for their families and their individual COVID risk.

He added that additionally, the shift to remote learning will provide additional flexibility for students and their families, as well as ensure greater consistency in the academic experience for all students.

Not aloneUW is not the only Wyoming college shutting down. Central Wyoming College in Riverton also announced it would pivot to virtual learning, according to an article that appeared in the Casper Star Tribune. Just like UW, Central Wyoming College had planned to switch to online classes.

Its campus will close its campus to the public on Monday, Nov. 16 and remain shut through Jan 4, 2021.

“We have been monitoring our dashboard as it has changed dramatically in the past 24 hours, said Dr. Kathy Wells, the school’s COVID-19 response leader in a news release issued Wednesday. “Our state percent of positives has significantly increased in the past two weeks and our community healthcare systems are very stressed.” (The increase in more than 20%)

Original Phase 4 slated week laterUnder the university’s phased plan for the fall semester, the university had been scheduled to move to Phase 4 and fully online instruction beginning Nov. 23 and extending through the end of the semester. With the vast majority of students not returning to campus after Thanksgiving, the intent was to help minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission that would be caused by students leaving campus and then returning.

However, the recent surge in cases among students and employees — there were 337 active cases reported Tuesday, up from 174 the week before — prompted the decision to move to Phase 4 a week earlier.

“It’s important to note that students who need to remain on campus will be allowed to do so. For example, a student who has a plane ticket for next week will still be allowed to stay in his or her residence hall,” Seidel said. “Students who remain on campus will be required to continue COVID-19 testing as scheduled. We also will continue to provide quarantine and isolation spaces, as well as housing and dining, through the holiday break. Students who are unable to leave the campus for the break will still have access to facilities such as the library and computer labs.”

Final exams will be conducted online the week of Dec. 7-11Regardless of when they leave campus for the Thanksgiving holiday, students and employees are reminded to follow the university’s policies and public health guidelines aimed at stemming the spread of the virus. Those include staying home when sick; wearing face protection; physical distancing; and avoiding gatherings where those measures aren’t followed.

Students returning home after receiving negative test results are encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks once they reach their destinations to rule out infection and reduce the possibility of spread in other communities. Students who receive positive test results may use the next week and a half to shelter in place and receive necessary medical treatment before heading home.

For those spending time on campus next week, required testing will continue through the end of Friday, Nov. 20. Students and employees who are noncompliant for testing or who are in quarantine or isolation are not allowed to be on campus or attend home football games.

Phase 4 Testing

Students who must be on campus will be able to opt in for testing during this period; instructions will be posted on the Testing Resources webpage in the next few days.

The university will conduct no testing the week of Nov. 23. However, for those spending time on campus after Thanksgiving who cannot physically distance, required testing will resume Nov. 30 and continue until the Dec. 21-Jan. 2 winter break. Testing will resume again Jan. 4, 2021 for those on campus who cannot physically distance.

Employees whose status will be changing — for example, those who have been working on campus but now will be 100 percent remote — will need their status updated in WyoCloud HCM. Employees’ assignment flags for 100 percent remote work and ability to self-isolate on campus will be updated by department decentralized human resources representatives. This should be done as soon as possible. With the early move to Phase 4, it is acknowledged that not all updates will be completed when invitations are sent for next week’s testing. More detailed instructions will be provided by Human Resources.

Employees who can work remotely are strongly encouraged to do so. Employees who cannot work remotely and are unable to physically distance while working on campus are required to continue testing through Nov. 20 and then resume testing the week after Thanksgiving.

Spring Semester

With public health experts saying the COVID-19 pandemic will continue into the next calendar year, the university is taking steps to continue delivering as much of an on-campus experience as possible in the spring 2021 semester. Much as it has during the current fall semester, the university plans to offer a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes. Current plans call for a continuation of measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19, including the rigorous testing program; requirements for face protection and physical distancing; and limits on gatherings.

The pandemic has caused the university to adjust the spring semester schedule, with classes starting Jan. 25, 2021, a week later than had been planned. Additionally, to help minimize the risk of viral transmission that would be caused by students leaving campus and then returning, there will be no spring break. To help compensate, there will be no classes Presidents Day, Feb. 15.

To learn more

More information about UW’s COVID-19 response can be found at www.uwyo.edu/campus-return, which is being updated as information becomes available. Those with questions also may call (307) 766-COVD (2683) or email COVID19@uwyo.edu.

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