CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State explores array of mitigation efforts in fall return

'It is not expected that all risk from COVID-19 can be eliminated'

Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The students are gon
Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The students are gone, and ISU is planning how best to handle student return this fall. (The Gazette)

With an unprecedented coronavirus-plagued spring semester wrapping, and most summer courses being offered online only, Iowa’s public universities are strategizing for the fall — and Iowa State University has released a set of principles it will use as a guide for the next academic year.

That list of fall semester 2020 values emphasizes flexibility, risk mitigation and communication and balances the campus’ desire to hold true to its core values while also meeting budgetary demands, enrollment needs and community requirements and expectations.

“Developing and executing a plan for university operations for the fall 2020 semester, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the most critical and challenging projects in the history of Iowa State University,” according to the guiding principles document ISU President Wendy Wintersteen unveiled Tuesday.

The plan — which must protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff — must be communicated to the broader campus community no later than midsummer but must also be nimble enough for continual adjustment in response to shifting COVID-19 circumstances.

It must include strategies for getting everyone back on campus in the fall — including students in the residence halls, athletes with their teams and faculty and staff in the classrooms and research labs.

“It is not expected that all risk from COVID-19 can be eliminated,” according to the document.

Evaluating and mitigating that risk should involve a range of elements, including testing and contact-tracing capacity; social distancing demands; classroom, laboratory and studio size; potential use of personal protective equipment; and protection of the campus’ most vulnerable members.

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Risk mitigation also should include possible adjustment to the academic calendar and schedule; facilities management and cleaning; procedures and restrictions around events; and limitations on university-sponsored travel.

In considering residence hall and dining management, the campus also will weigh potential quarantine and isolation practices along with infection and exposure responses and control plans.

The hope is to assure prospective students of their safety in a return to on-campus learning in the fall and to be as accommodating as possible.

“The fall plan must include ideas for the continuation of online options to encourage and support efforts to retain enrollment at the highest level possible,” according to the guidance. “Included in these efforts is support for international students who may not be allowed to travel to campus.”

The plan should advise on managing campus visitors. And it also must include steps for a reversion to fully online offerings, “if mandated by changing COVID-19 conditions.”

As Iowa State is a top-tier research university — pulling hundreds of millions in external research funding annually — the guidance urges a focus on continuing research “to the fullest extent possible.”

BUDGET KEY FACtoR

In all the campus’ fall decisions, ISU leadership must consider “the budgetary impact and financial resources.

“This includes considering not only the short-term financial impact of planning decisions, but also the long-term financial health of the university,” according to the ISU guidance. “The university’s short term COVID-19 response cannot irreversibly impact the long-term financial viability of the university.”

The Board of Regents on Monday called a special meeting for Thursday to receive updates on the financial losses and extra expenses their campuses have incurred in their respective COVID-19 responses.

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Board President Mike Richards earlier this month announced Iowa’s public universities are planning a “full, normal operation for our universities for the fall 2020 semester,” including in-person classes, the reopening of residence halls, food service, and other operations.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld likewise recently shared with his campus plans to resume face-to-face instruction on campus come fall. To that end, Harreld said UI leadership has assembled a team led by the Office of the Provost to outline a plan “that will bring us back in August.”

ISU President Wintersteen similarly on Tuesday announced a “Fall Planning Executive Committee” that will work across campus units to “identify and mobilize campus, Board of Regents, community, and private partner resources to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for the fall 2020 semester.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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