Encouraging numbers regarding COVID-19 infections, along with vaccine availability and acceptance, have made it possible for the University of Wyoming to move forward with plans for a traditional fall 2021 semester with in-person experiences and fewer restrictions.
Rather than wait until June to make a final decision on the approach to the fall semester that starts Monday, Aug. 23, the university has determined to proceed with plans for face-to-face classes at maximum capacity, face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and the like. UW’s Board of Trustees Thursday adopted a resolution to “fully reopen” the university for the fall semester “consistent with the health policy guidelines and directives of the state and federal governments regarding COVID-19.”
“What we’re seeing with infection numbers and vaccine availability and acceptance has given us a high degree of confidence that we’ll have a pre-pandemic campus environment for the fall semester,” President Ed Seidel says. “Unless there’s a dramatic, unexpected development — such as an outbreak of some new dangerous COVID variant that is resistant to the new vaccines — we’ll be back fully in person this fall.”
“This has been a difficult time for everyone, and we’re so excited that our students will be back to the traditional campus experience this fall,” says Board of Trustees Chairman Jeff Marsh. “The board strongly supports a full reopening of the university and has heard loud and clear the concerns voiced by so many of our constituents throughout the state.”
As of Thursday, the total number of active COVID-19 cases among UW students and employees stood at eight — four students living off campus and four employees living off campus. The percentage of samples testing positive in the university’s testing program has decreased from .34 percent at the start of the spring semester to .06 percent in the last week. And, most significantly, COVID-19 vaccines have been made available to all UW employees — and are expected to be available to all students age 18 and over in Albany County in a matter of weeks.
“We’re encouraged at the level of acceptance of the vaccines by members of the UW community,” Seidel says. “Whereas a month ago we weren’t sure if students would have access to vaccines until later in the summer, it’s clear now that the rollout will be much sooner than that. We’re counting on the level of vaccine acceptance to continue at a high level.”
Last week, the university announced that the significant decline in COVID-19 cases and increasing availability of vaccines had prompted an adjustment to UW’s spring semester plan, allowing students and faculty the option of continuing in-person experiences throughout the semester. Instead of asking students to leave UW’s residence halls and encouraging students to not return following UW’s abbreviated spring break March 31-April 4, the university will maintain residential hall living as an option, as well as continuing to offer student support programs and activities. Some faculty members may continue or convert to face-to-face classes through semester’s end. Requirements for the wearing of masks, social distancing and COVID-19 testing will continue through the spring semester, including in-person commencement ceremonies May 14-15.
For the fall semester, a much higher percentage of classes will be conducted face to face, and it is expected that distancing, gathering and testing requirements will be eased. It’s not yet certain whether there will continue to be any requirement for face protection.
“While we will need to decide a few details later, we’re very confident in saying that students this fall can expect a much more traditional experience than we’ve been able to provide the past three semesters,” Seidel says. “In the meantime, we encourage everyone to continue following our requirements and public health guidelines — and especially to make sure they’re vaccinated — so that we can put the pandemic behind us.”
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 about testing and other COVID-19 issues may call (307) 766-COVD (2683) or email COVID19@uwyo.edu.