KU details some protection efforts for fall semester, creates pandemic management teams

photo by: Contributed/University of Kansas

A rendering of a socially-distanced seating layout in Budig Hall at the University of Kansas. Normally the pictured lecture hall can hold 1,000 students.

The logistics of a fall semester at the University of Kansas in the COVID-19 era began to take shape late Monday, as the university released many new guidelines for classroom configurations, the options available for faculty to safely teach, and new procedures for the unprecedented academic term.

KU’s larger lecture halls will function at significantly reduced capacities, students will be asked to sign a pledge committing to updating various health apps daily, and faculty will have four levels of personal protective equipment to choose from — at no cost — to feel safe during physical instruction, among other changes.

The plan, called Protect KU, will be updated as public health guidelines evolve, but for now should serve as a roadmap to what a “science-based” return to campus will look like, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a written message to campus.

“If individually and together we follow the measures set forth in our plan, our combined effort will enable us to protect our people as we go about our research and creative activities, and provide our students the experience they expect, while reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Girod said.

KU faculty members in recent days have loudly voiced concerns about a return to in-person instruction in the fall, with many taking exception to the procedures KU had in place to be excused from physical instruction.

Perhaps an attempt to assuage some of those fears, the Protect KU plan details four options for instructors to choose from should they teach in-person in the fall:

• First, the faculty member can wear a mask and be 8 feet away from the first row of students.

• Second, an instructor can wear a mask, be distanced from students and have a transparent barrier in front of their lectern.

• Third, the barrier protections can be multi-sided with the other protections still in place,

• Or fourth, faculty can request enhanced personal protective equipment such as a face shield.

Regarding personal protective equipment, the Protect KU plan says the university has ordered “large quantities” of gear for departments that don’t normally require such equipment. For students, cloth masks will be provided with hand sanitizing stations readily available throughout campus.

The document still does not lay out a concrete testing plan for the university’s approximately 33,000 students, staff and faculty. It only mentions that testing is available at both LMH Health and Watkins Health Services, the campus student health care provider.

Girod on Monday also announced the creation of two pandemic management teams — one focused on academic practices and another focused on medical advisory. The latter — comprising officials from the KU Medical Center and Douglas County health officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino, among others — will continue to develop the university’s testing plan.

“As you know, testing and contact tracing is key to a thoughtful and science-based return to campus, and this team will ensure our decisions continue to be guided by the most current medical advice and prioritize the health of the community above all else,” Girod said.

Also of note in Monday’s announcement were more stringent operating procedures for KU’s on-campus residence halls — which officials have said in the past will operate at “near-capacity” in the fall.

First, the move-in period will be staggered through appointments students set with the university. The sign-up process for those times will begin the week of July 6, according to the Protect KU plan.

KU has dedicated rooms for on-campus residents who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to a positive case and have to self-isolate. Residence halls will also limit the number of residents using community bathroom spaces, the document says.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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