A sign on the ground near Mirror Lake reminds students to be six feet apart

Students will see many changes to Ohio State’s campus this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including signage to promote social distancing. Credit: Max Garrison | Asst. Campus Editor

Students may not be able to stand arm-in-arm and sing “Carmen Ohio,” this fall but time and change will surely show this upcoming school year as the university transitions back to campus during COVID-19.

Mandatory masks and daily health checks, an extended move-in period, the prohibition of in-person classes with more than 100 students, and a virtual involvement fair are just some of the changes students, faculty and staff will have to adjust to this year, according to the university. 

“It’s going to be critically important that before our students ever arrive on campus that we’ve done a really good job in educating them about what their experience will look like on campus and what part they can actually play in helping us to maintain a safe campus,” Melissa Shivers, vice president for student life, said.

The 12-day-extended move-in period will allow for proper physical distancing, Shivers said. The university will work with resident advisers to connect students to others in their residence hall through events while encouraging proper handwashing, physical distancing and wearing masks.

“When our students are all together in the residence halls, our RAs and their roles are going to become increasingly important in still finding and identifying pathways to allowing and increasing community,” Shivers said.

Shivers said the university will likely designate one residence hall for isolation housing to accommodate any students that need to be placed in quarantine. These students will have access to classwork, meal services and mental health resources.

A universitywide email July 10 announced that masks will be required in indoor settings including classrooms, common areas, conference rooms, shared office spaces, hallways, buses, and shared vehicles on all Ohio State campuses. Masks will also be required outside where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Classes with more than 100 people will be conducted virtually or in a hybrid model that includes virtual and in-person components for smaller groups, according to the Safe and Healthy OSU website. In-person classroom seating has been redesigned to allow for physical distancing between students and instructors depending on the classroom’s layout. 

In classrooms with tables and chairs, students will be required to sit in every other chair, alternating seat per row; in lecture halls, students must sit three seats apart with a row of empty seats between every student-occupied row; and in computer labs, students must sit with a minimum of two empty computers between them, according to the website. 

Like classrooms, University Provost Bruce McPheron said that libraries would use wider seating arrangements and lower the capacity of study rooms to lower the density of people in the space. McPheron said that any spaces where density cannot be controlled would remain closed. 

Dining halls will also see a strategy to lower the density of people using the space. All dining halls will encourage mobile ordering and pickups while requiring customers to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wait outside until their order is ready, according to the Safe and Healthy OSU website. Seating will be rearranged to promote physical distancing as well, and students are encouraged to order their meals to go. All self-serve salad bars and condiment stands will be unavailable.

Upon return to campus, all students, faculty and staff will receive a return-to-campus kit including one disposable mask, two reusable masks, a thermometer, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, according to a July 10 universitywide email. 

Amy Fairchild, dean of the College of Public Health, said that students will be required to sign a pledge committing to wear masks when necessary, engage in good hand hygiene, respect social distancing and comply with contact tracers before returning to campus.

Contact tracing is the process of reconstructing the past actions of an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracers gather information about recent locations and proximity to other people, Fairchild said. 

“Identifying people who are likely to have been infected and quarantining them within 24 hours is going to be the key to keeping the epidemic in check,” Fairchild said.

If students become ill while enrolled in in-person classes, they will receive accommodations to access their course material online. The university is in the process of installing cameras into academic rooms to capture live lectures, McPheron said.

As the university continues to monitor case numbers and receive guidance from medical and public health professionals, McPheron said that protocols are subject to change. The university is prepared to deliver all courses virtually, if necessary. 

“We’ll have to make the best-informed decisions that we can in the moment,” McPheron said.

In addition to academics, there will also be changes to student organizations and recreational facilities this fall. The Student Involvement Fair and Buck-i-Frenzy are events traditionally held each year in August. The Student Involvement Fair connects students with organizations on campus and will be held virtually August 23 from 4-7 p.m. Buck-i-Frenzy will be canceled this year, according to the Welcome Week website.

Jen Pelletier, associate director of student organizations, said that incoming first-year students can find organizations of interest remotely by seeking out activities they currently enjoy within the Ohio State community. Pelletier and Brooke Olson, coordinator of student involvement and organizations, said they encourage students to explore something new or to consider co-curricular options that connect to their major or area of study. 

“Have hope that there are still ways for you to find meaningful connections on campus, whether or not that’s in a virtual or physical space,” Olson said. 

University recreational spaces will be open in the fall, but activities will be restricted, according to the Safe and Healthy OSU website. Fitness equipment will be at least 6 feet apart, hours may be limited and high contact or confined sports including indoor and outdoor basketball and volleyball, racquetball, squash and soccer will be prohibited. Those spaces will be converted to increase accessibility to low-contact cardio and strength training activities.

Certain spaces including saunas, spas and lounges within recreational facilities will remain closed. Group fitness classes will resume in person by reservation or drop-in at limited capacity to allow for physical distancing. Group fitness classes will remain available virtually, according to the Safe and Healthy OSU website.

“We understand the importance of the physical health, as well as the mental health of our students’ experiences,” Shivers said.

Students, faculty and staff will be required to complete health and safety training modules before returning to campus in the fall.

“The Buckeye Learn Modules are going to be designed to help reinforce for each of us the importance of thinking not only of our own personal health but of the health around us,” McPheron said. “You have a responsibility to all of the other Buckeyes to take it seriously and pay attention.”