Thousands would be tested for COVID-19 as USF reopens. Plan calls for virtual, in-person classes.

Under a plan to be considered by the university’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday, residence halls would reopen with limitations and the fall semester would begin Aug. 24.
Under a draft reopening plan, move-in times at USF residence halls would be staggered and arranged in advance. All students with housing contracts would be required to be tested for COVID-19. The university's Board of Trustees will consider the plan on Tuesday.
Under a draft reopening plan, move-in times at USF residence halls would be staggered and arranged in advance. All students with housing contracts would be required to be tested for COVID-19. The university's Board of Trustees will consider the plan on Tuesday. [ Times (2018) ]
Published June 8, 2020|Updated June 8, 2020

Before returning to the University of South Florida campus in August, students, faculty and staff would be required to take a “Baseline Symptom Survey” to determine their risk for spreading the coronavirus, according to a set of recommendations to be considered Tuesday by the USF Board of Trustees.

Students from outside the state or country — or who live in a county with greater than a 7 percent positive test-rate for the virus — would be required to be tested. Tests also would be required of 10 percent of students, faculty and staff returning to campus, as determined by a random selection, and of all students with residence hall contracts.

Those selected for testing would be notified by email and given a location to receive and drop off the self-administered COVID-19 test kit.

The testing regimen is one part of a broader reopening plan for USF. Titled “Resuming University Operations Amid a Global Pandemic,” the draft was developed by nine work groups and outlines four phases of re-opening.

The first phase aims to bring 25 percent of the university staff back to campuses while the fourth phase would return campuses to full operations after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems that the spread of the virus has stabilized in the six-county USF region.

Related: USF classes will return to campus in August, go back online after Thanksgiving break

Last week, the office of the provost sent an email to college deans outlining guidelines for setting their fall course schedules with faculty. The guidelines state that “students will not be required to register for face-to-face classes in the fall,” though the university acknowledges that some classes, such as labs or experiential learning, do not lend themselves to virtual delivery.

The guidelines also state faculty and staff considered “high-risk” should not be required to teach face-to-face classes in fall.

The plan would require classes with over 100 students to be conducted virtually, while those between 50 and 100 students would be recommended for virtual delivery.

The guidelines outline options for fall classes that include solely face-to-face instruction, solely online instruction and a hybrid of online and face-to-face instruction, which could include staggered scheduling of in-person courses. Priority scheduling would be given for classes that involve experiential learning.

Mathematics professor Gregory McColm said he had concerns about whether the university would have enough large rooms to host face-to-face classes.

“A whole bunch of people sitting around in a room for an hour, you’re going to have a lot of virus floating around that room,” he said.

He said he also had concerns about hosting office hours, where faculty and students would be in cramped quarters. Some students may be young but have underlying conditions they don’t know about, he said.

“As for the professors, some of us are geezers and have accumulated several physical health conditions,” he said. “There’s a lot of people performing jobs that need to continue to function that puts them at risk. The concern is how to minimize those risks."

In the letter to deans, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said more than 30,000 students have already registered for fall classes.

So far, the number of new admitted students who have put down a deposit has increased by 5.4 percent overall, with a 9.8 percent increase in international students and 15.2 percent increase in out-of state students, said USF spokesman Adam Freeman. The numbers won’t be final until after the fall semester begins Aug. 24.

As of May 27, Freeman said, applications for on-campus housing are up by 7 percent among first-time-in-college students and by 20 percent in St. Petersburg, where a new residence hall is scheduled to open.

While the university intends to re-open housing at “design capacity,” it has identified spaces to isolate students who test positive and those they may have come in contact with. If capacity of these isolated spaces is exceeded in Tampa, students would be housed at the St. Petersburg campus.

The draft also states that the use of common areas in student housing would be limited and guests would not be allowed. Federal guidelines would be followed and modifications are planned, including Plexiglass barriers in high-traffic areas and alternating water fountains and sinks in community restrooms.

Move-in times for students would be staggered and made by appointment.

Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, said he believes the university will be successful in implementing social distancing guidelines. It will be done through “community enforcement,” he said, much as smoking bans were put in place.

The draft also outlines possible consequences for non-compliance with health guidelines. They would range from warnings for not disinfecting work spaces to removal from campus and referral to Student Conduct, with possible suspension or disciplinary action for not isolating if tested and found to be positive for COVID-19.

The draft also states the university plans to provide two washable face coverings for each student, staff and faculty member. Additional personal protective equipment, including gloves and face shields, are to be provided to those who require it.

A marketing campaign is expected to be launched and hand sanitizer made available throughout the campuses, according to the plan.

The document, if approved by USF trustees, would be sent to the Board of Governors by June 23.