As several other Ohio universities announce plans to resume varying degrees of in-person classes in the fall, Ohio State is not committing to anything yet — not even an announcement date.
The university’s post-pandemic operations task force is charged with determining how and when to safely resume on-campus operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gail Marsh, chair of the taskforce and university chief strategy officer, said that although the task force aims to announce Ohio State’s fall plans by mid-June, it is trying to be as flexible as possible.
“We’re dealing with this unprecedented uncertainty, with the prevalence of the virus, so it would not be good to commit to a particular date,” Marsh said.
Marsh said the task force’s safe campus and scientific advisory subgroup, chaired by Dean of the College of Public Health Dr. Amy Fairchild, is responsible for making recommendations on transitioning safely back to campus. The subgroup includes epidemiologists, public health experts and infectious disease experts and is tracking the coronavirus’ reproduction rate across Ohio, the U.S. and countries from which Ohio State students come.
At the time of publication, there were 30,167 cases of COVID-19 and 1,836 deaths in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Franklin County, where Ohio State is located, had 4,885 COVID-19 cases and 205 deaths.
Marsh said that the taskforce is planning for two scenarios: online instruction for the entire fall semester and some form of in-person classes in the fall. She said that in order for students, staff and faculty to safely return to campus, the university must develop plans that meet the Ohio Department of Health’s guidelines for sanitation and physical distancing.
As far as specific measures — like mandatory testing, waiving two-year on-campus living requirements or requiring masks on campus — Marsh said although the taskforce has not taken anything off the table, it also has not made any concrete decisions.
“We’re looking at every scenario. We’re looking at reducing density wherever we can,” she said.
More than half of Ohio’s public universities have announced that classes will resume on campus in the fall, although several have phased plans or modified schedules.
Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said in a May 14 press release that although distance learning infrastructure is in place, the university intends to “return to in-person instruction in the fall if it is safe.” According to the press release, multiple groups focused on different aspects of reopening — including public health, personal protective equipment procurement, student experiences and academic policy — are working on recommendations to release by the end of June.
In a universitywide email May 15, Miami University announced its plans to return to campus in the fall. According to the university website, a Safe Return to Campus Planning and Coordinating Committee will develop sanitation, physical distancing and other health and safety protocols for returning to campus.
The University of Cincinnati announced in a universitywide email Wednesday that a four-phase approach to reopening its campus will start June 1. Employees will return to campus in phases one through three and phase four will mark the beginning of fall semester on Aug. 24. The university will announce final details of phase four by the end of June, according to the university website.
Kent State University outlined in a universitywide email Friday its plans to resume in-person classes in the fall. According to the university website, students, staff and faculty will have to adhere to guidelines which include wearing masks or face coverings and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others. Social distancing guidelines will be “strictly enforced,” the email states.
Other Ohio universities that have announced plans to resume some form of in-person instruction in the fall are Bowling Green State University, Shawnee State University, Central State University and the University of Toledo.
Marsh said although Ohio State is communicating with other universities in the Inter-University Council of Ohio — a council of all public universities in the state — the university is not basing its decisions based on other universities’ plans.
“We’re constantly benchmarking what other people are doing, not just in Ohio, but across the U.S.,” Marsh said. “But we’ll make a decision based on the best indicators for our faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors.”
Even after the decision is announced, Marsh said the safe campus and scientific advisory subgroup will continue to monitor the virus and make new recommendations if needed.
“Once we announce the plan, it would always be with the caveat that it could change.” Marsh said. “None of us control the virus.”
This story was updated May 22 at 2:42 p.m. with information about Kent State University’s fall semester plans.