CORONAVIRUS

Iowa private colleges prep for campus return in the fall

Mount Mercy unveiling hybrid plans; Cornell to use 'symptom checker' and isolation spaces

King Chapel on the Cornell College campus in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
King Chapel on the Cornell College campus in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Like Iowa’s public universities — which are spending the summer planning a return to on-campus instruction and experiences come fall — Mount Mercy University on Tuesday announced it too expects to resume in-person classes in August.

The Mount Mercy model, though, will blend on-campus learning with expanded virtual options in a hybrid fashion meant to facilitate “flexible instruction” — with “some students attending class in person on one day while others participate virtually.”

“The health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is our top priority,” Mount Mercy Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Laurent said in a statement. “The hybrid model facilitates maximum flexibility, allowing students to take classes in-person or online.”

The hybrid model under development at Mount Mercy takes into consideration specific student experiences, concerns, and health-related needs and risks — prioritizing the in-person experience that many want while accommodating “students who may feel more comfortable taking classes online.”

As part of its plan to resume campus instruction, the university is preparing social distancing measures and taking other steps to mitigate potential spread of COVID-19, which continues to infect and kill more Iowans daily.

As of Tuesday, Iowa was reporting more than 22,200 positive COVID-19 cases and 623 deaths — including 273 new cases Monday and four new deaths. Linn County, home to Mount Mercy, has reported more than 1,000 total cases and 80 total deaths, second-highest in the state.

The university — along with Iowa’s other private and public higher education institutions — in March canceled in-person instruction and sent students home to finish the semester online as the global pandemic gained steam across the state.

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The campuses not only curtailed in-class instruction but sent home faculty and staff, shifted to virtual meetings, and canceled in-person events and activities, including commencement ceremonies.

By pushing a hybrid return for the fall semester, Mount Mercy officials believe they’ll be positioned for a prompt pivot to fully-remote instruction — should that again become necessary.

In addition to the campus’ curriculum plans for fall, Mount Mercy expects to resume on-campus housing, student activities, and athletics — with guidance from state and federal health experts.

Specifics are being ironed out, but the campus expects to begin hosting outdoor campus for things like soccer, track and field, and cross-country, in July. While buildings will remain locked through Aug. 1, employees will gain access via card and ID over the summer.

Up to half of employees within any given department will be allowed to return to their campus workspaces this month, with up to 75 percent allowed back in July. Everyone will be welcomed back Aug. 1, with all required to wear face coverings “until further notice.”

“All students living and accessing campus will be held to the same guidelines as employees,” according to Mount Mercy’s return guidelines referring to face coverings.

For students planning to live on campus, administrators advised more housing and dining details are forthcoming.

As for campus cleaning and hygiene procedures, Mount Mercy has added sanitation stations, “sneeze guards for high traffic areas,” and new cleaning practices and procedures.

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Coe College, also in Cedar Rapids, likewise is planning to resume face-to-face instruction in the fall — although it hasn’t yet released details of any new safety measures or processes.

“Although many colleges are contemplating moving online for the fall term, we do not plan to consider such an action unless the virus-related risk grows considerably worse than it is currently projected to be,” according to Coe’s website. “We fully expect to be open in the fall.”

And Cornell College in Mount Vernon has rolled out a phased plan to resume on-campus operations — starting with the reopening of some offices next week. The campus, which operates on a unique block system that has students taking one course at a time, recently added two blocks to its academic year — expanding options for students amid the pandemic that’s created new health and economic challenges.

Safety measures Cornell is enacting include face covering requirements, social distancing practices, hand sanitizer stations, available testing and contact tracing, plexiglass shields, dining modifications, and group limitations.

Additionally, all students and employees coming to campus must complete a “symptom checker” before leaving home each day. And Cornell is making self-isolation and quarantine spaces available.

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

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