The University of Wyoming’s proposed spring 2021 semester would include 10 weeks of in-person instruction, a three-day spring break and five weeks of fully online classes to conclude the term, under a draft plan being presented today (Wednesday) to UW’s Board of Trustees.
The semester would begin with two days of online-only instruction Thursday and Friday, Jan. 21-22, and face-to-face classes would begin Monday, Jan. 25. Following the abbreviated March 31-April 4 spring break, all classes would move to online delivery, with the final day of classes May 6 and finals week May 10-14.
The draft plan represents the university’s best effort to deliver as much of an exceptional on-campus experience as possible amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss the proposal during this morning’s regular teleconference meeting and then vote on the plan during a special meeting Wednesday, Dec. 16.
“While we anticipate that the spring semester will look very much like Phases 3 and 4 of the fall semester, it is uncertain when the current statewide surge in COVID-19 cases will subside and what will be the impact of the holiday season,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “So, even as we bring this to the board with the intention of moving forward with a semester that includes on-campus experiences for students, we will continue to work with and follow guidance from our partners at the Wyoming Department of Health and Albany County Public Health. And we will remain prepared to implement an emergency shift to fully remote instruction and student programming with limited in-person operations or to take other actions if warranted by major changes in conditions.”
To mitigate the impact of possibly infected students returning to campus from across the country and beyond, the draft plan includes a “limited contact period” for students Jan. 14-31. During that period, students would be allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements, and be outside; but they would be expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.
Additionally, students and employees would be expected to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance upon returning from winter break, including reducing nonessential activities for up to 10 days and being tested for COVID-19 three to five days following return. As has been the case during the fall semester, UW plans to continue measures throughout the spring to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a rigorous testing program; requirements for face protection and physical distancing; and limits on gatherings.
The university intends to facilitate making a COVID-19 vaccine available as soon as possible to mitigate transmission of the virus and allow the other preventative measures to be more effective. However, it’s uncertain when students and employees will have access to the vaccine. As a result, the plan to move to online-only course delivery following spring break follows the same rationale for the decision to go online during the fall semester following Thanksgiving break: to help minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission that would be caused by students leaving campus and then returning.
“We initially communicated the idea of eliminating spring break for this semester, but our students made it clear that a break was essential for their mental and emotional well-being,” Seidel says. “This plan provides for a three-day spring break leading into Easter weekend, with classes starting back up online April 5.”
Additionally, no classes would be held Presidents Day Monday, Feb. 15.
While close to 40 percent of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring — up from the historical figure of 15 percent — about 60 percent are planned to include in-person components during the Jan. 25-March 30 period. The in-person classes would continue to be held in classrooms that are arranged to meet physical-distancing requirements, along with enhanced cleaning measures.
“In addition to continuing a commitment to the logistical requirements associated with providing an on-campus experience that is as safe as possible, this plan puts a particular emphasis on student emotional health and well-being,” Seidel says. “We know how difficult these unusual circumstances are for our students, and we are dedicated to making sure they have the supports and services they need to be successful.”
Testing and Screening
Students, faculty and staff coming to campus or returning to work would be required to participate in UW’s surveillance testing program, using UW’s laboratory-developed, saliva-based tests. Students not returning to campus at any time during the semester would not be required to participate, but they would need to receive testing exemptions.
For students moving into UW’s residence halls, COVID-19 testing would be required the morning of their move-in date. For students living off campus who plan to participate in on-campus activities, testing would be required the first week of classes beginning Jan. 25. Students who return early to campus for university-sanctioned activities would be required to test upon arrival.
For employees who are returning to work after being away from campus, testing would be required the week before their return to on-campus work. Those returning directly after the winter break Jan. 4 would be tested during that week and self-isolate as much as possible until a negative test result has been received. Employees who plan to work from home or fully self-isolate on campus throughout the semester would not be required to take part in surveillance testing.
Undergraduate students who are part of the surveillance program would be tested twice per week; graduate students and employees would be tested once per week.
UW employees and students would continue to be expected to use the COVID Pass tool daily to self-screen for COVID-19-like symptoms. Those who are noncompliant with the testing requirements would receive a “red” flag similar to an individual with symptoms, restricting access to campus.
Under the plan, the university would continue to track and monitor a set of key indicators of COVID-19 prevalence on campus to support data-based decision-making. These include the total number of symptomatic cases among students and employees; testing sample disease prevalence; capacity for isolation and quarantine; and hospitalizations.
There would be no automatic actions triggered by hitting certain indicator thresholds, but UW would continue to coordinate closely with state and local authorities to assess conditions in the community and determine appropriate interventions.
Since the pandemic began, UW has reported a total of 1,789 cases of COVID-19 among its employees and students, with 1,767 people recovered. There are 22 active cases — one on-campus student, 10 off-campus students and 11 employees. With the move to online-only classes and with final exams being conducted remotely this week, only about 130 students remain in UW’s residence halls, and many traditional-age students who were living off campus in Laramie have returned to their homes around the state, the country and beyond.
Following scheduled action on the spring semester plan by the Board of Trustees next week, the university plans a robust communication effort to inform the UW community and its constituents about the details of the final plan.