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USF trustees approve plan to reopen campuses. Masks will be required in enclosed areas.

Students “want to come back and resume their activities, but they’re looking at leadership of the university as stewards of their health,” USF president Steve Currall says.
Students walk the campus of USF, where the board of trustees on Tuesday approved a plan to reopen in August. The plan calls for large numbers of students, faculty and staff to be tested for the coronavirus, and students will be required to wear masks in class.
Students walk the campus of USF, where the board of trustees on Tuesday approved a plan to reopen in August. The plan calls for large numbers of students, faculty and staff to be tested for the coronavirus, and students will be required to wear masks in class. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Jun. 9, 2020

The University of South Florida Board of Trustees unanimously approved a four-phase plan Tuesday to reopen campuses in August with protections against the spread of the coronavirus.

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

The plan calls for testing large numbers of students, faculty and staff for the presence of the virus; increased measures to clean and disinfect public areas; and a number of steps aimed at social distancing. Many, but not all, classes would be offered virtually, and students would be required to wear masks on campus in all shared, enclosed spaces, including classrooms.

The plan will be sent to the state Board of Governors this week, and could be dialed back if conditions warrant, USF president Steve Currall told trustees. He also said university administrators would make minor revisions to the plan based on feedback they heard.

“It’s a contingency model,” Currall said. “This is intentionally a conservative plan. It’s easier to relax procedures if public health data changes than to create new ones.”

The plan is estimated to cost between $16 million and $25 million to implement, funded in part by the federal CARES Act.

Related: RELATED: Florida colleges will collect tens of millions in federal aid

Donna Petersen, chair of the USF COVID-19 Task Force and dean of the USF College of Public Health, said the first phase has already been implemented in part as some operations have continued on campus. Movement between the phases will depend on public health data, but Peterson said she hopes Phase 2, where people begin to return at 50 percent capacity, begins soon.

Trustee Deanna Michael said faculty members have reached out to her saying they are eager to return to work as soon as possible.

“They’re just more productive there,” she said.

Petersen said that, based on surveys, faculty members were mixed on how comfortable they were with returning to campus.

USF president Steve Currall [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
USF president Steve Currall [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

Currall said he was impressed with the nuanced opinions of students they’ve heard from.

“They do want to come back and resume their activities, but they’re looking at leadership of the university as stewards of their health,” he said.

The plan was formulated by more than 120 people in nine work groups and is based on the work of epidemiologists who have been modeling the illness.

It’s centered around risk mitigation, Currall said. “Personal responsibility is extremely important in this plan.”

Trustee Leslie Muma asked how the university planned to “police” the student body.

University general counsel Gerard Solis said a public health campaign is the best approach and students have a vested interest in compliance.

“If you want an in-person experience, then you have to comply,” he said. “We think it's the wrong message and approach to use University Police.”

Michael said it appeared enforcement would fall upon faculty and asked if faculty would be trained in de-escalation or conflict resolution. “Right now if a student is disruptive, we call University Police,” she said.

Petersen said University Police would be called if the situation becomes disruptive and threatening, but enforcement will be a collective effort.

The plan outlines consequences for non-compliance with guidelines. They range from warnings for not disinfecting work spaces to removal from campus and referral to the Student Conduct office, with possible suspension or discipline for not isolating if tested and found to be positive for COVID-19.

“There will be zero ambiguity,” USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said in a briefing later Tuesday. "We will communicate these expectations very clearly to students and faculty before they return.” He said he expects guidelines to be included in class syllabi as well.

Solis told trustees that the legal responsibility of a COVID-related death on campus is uncertain, but he would be more concerned about a situation where a student tests positive for COVID and remains in a residence hall. Creating health and safety standards are important, he said.

The plan will require a random sample of 10 percent of students, faculty and staff to be tested for the virus before returning to campus. In addition, all students planning to live on campus would be tested, as would all students from outside the state or country — and those who live in a county with greater than a 7 percent positive test rate for the virus.

Regular surveys and random testing proportional to the rate of infection in Hillsborough County will continue. Trustee Michael Griffin asked why the university didn’t plan to test more initially.

Petersen said she worried testing everyone would create a false sense of security, adding that the current plan is the best use of resources.

“Right now, the best tests we have available are for the presence of disease, it’s not for where it could be moving,” she said. “It’s a still photo of a moving train.”