The University of South Florida will move to the second phase of its four-phase reopening plan, allowing many classes to be held in-person when the fall semester begins Aug. 24, the school announced Friday.
In messages to faculty, staff and students, USF president Steve Currall said the university was encouraged by health trends in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee counties — including declines in new cases of the coronavirus and improving test positivity rates for each of the four counties as of Aug. 5.
The second phase of reopening originally was set for June 29, but was delayed as the number of new cases and virus-related deaths in Florida spiked through much of July.
“I wish to reassure you that we are diligently monitoring public health data on a daily basis,” Currall wrote. “We take seriously our responsibility to promote a healthy and safe environment for our community.”
The university also took into account visits to local emergency rooms and the impact of the virus on hospital capacity, according to Currall’s message.
The new phase allows for 50 percent of USF faculty and staff to return to campuses. Employees who are able to continue working remotely are asked to do so. About 59 percent of classes will be taught with some in-person component. Libraries, student centers and campus recreation facilities on all campuses will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity and hours.
Masks will be required when moving through shared spaces such as classrooms, lobbies, elevators, stairwells and lounges, and when using campus transportation. They will not be required when people are in their offices or dorm rooms or walking outside, though the university recommends using masks even outdoors when people are within 6 feet of each other.
On Tuesday, the provost’s office issued a 54-page document that offered guidance and advice for faculty. The document spelled out who qualifies for reasonable accommodations to teach online or should take time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“USF is taking significant steps to help keep faculty members safe, including but not limited to giving those who identify in a high-risk category, or live with those at risk, priority to teach courses online and providing sanitization supplies for instructional and research spaces,” the document states. “USF will follow its established processes and work with students or employees who have health conditions or personal circumstances that may impact their ability to return to campus.”
The document states that being older than 65 or in the high-risk group outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would not alone be considered a disability that requires reasonable accommodation. It also outlines expectations for faculty to sanitize their classrooms, the consequences students will face for not complying with health guidelines, and asks faculty to come up with plans to turn over their courses to someone else if they get sick and cannot teach.
The university’s faculty union president, Arthur Shapiro, wrote a letter this week to Currall asking to start the academic year with online classes only. Currall responded on Wednesday, affirming his confidence in the reopening plan.
In an update to its travel guidance this week, USF said all university-related travel is prohibited and personal travel by students, faculty and staff is “strongly discouraged.” Returning travelers are asked to follow state and local guidelines for self-isolation, the notice said.
The university also announced it has installed close to 48,000 new signs and decals, 112,000 feet of barricade taping in buildings and classrooms, 900 plexiglass shields at service points and automatic doors “where feasible,” to enforce social distancing.
Some doors, stairwells and hallways will now allow only one-way traffic. The school will make 400,000 face coverings available to the community, and 29 hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed across campuses. The machines will dispense up to two bottles per month with the swipe of a university ID.
In his messages to the USF community on Friday, Currall emphasized shared responsibility and said anyone who feels sick should stay home. All who come to campus are required to complete daily symptom-tracking surveys. Failure to do so could result in losing access to the university’s online network.
“To be clear: There will be zero tolerance and serious consequences for individuals who don’t comply with our expected behaviors and who jeopardize the health of others,” the letter said. “We’re all in this together. Thank you for your ongoing resilience and patience as USF enters the next phase of our planned return to campus.”