Ohio State has multiple scenarios planned for shutting down campus mid-semester due to a COVID-19 outbreak and has plans to notify students if a classmate contracts the disease. Details of these scenarios were not shared during a town hall meeting including University Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron.
With less than three weeks until the start of fall semester, McPheron and other university administrators fielded questions from students about eating in dining halls, contingency plans for a COVID-19 outbreak on campus and what to do if a student refuses to wear a mask in class during a virtual public forum hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government Wednesday.
In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak
There is no definitive plan in place to address a mid-semester shutdown of campus, McPheron said. Instead, he said the university has modeled several scenarios, but the university’s course of action will depend on what happens during the semester.
“If we, through the semester, discover through testing that we have a very localized issue, that would be something that we deal with in that localized fashion rather than a global circumstance,” McPheron said.
McPheron said the university will continue to follow guidance from the state, including if Gov. Mike DeWine were to issue a statewide shutdown.
The university currently does not have a system in place that will notify students if a classmate has tested positive. McPheron said the notification process will depend on contract tracing.
“Not every individual who may have seen an infected person will be at risk of being infected,” McPheron said. “The process of contact tracing is actually to talk to the individual who is infected with the virus and determine which individuals ought to be contacted.”
Enforcement of mask requirement and students participating in high-risk activities
Students who refuse to wear masks in the classroom will be asked to leave, Melissa Shivers, vice president for student life, said. For instances of repeated violation of the mask-wearing policy, Shivers said the university will leverage its code of student conduct.
McPheron said faculty members are instructed to report students who intentionally fail to wear masks during class to the Office of Student Conduct, as well as take other health precautions for the rest of the class.
“If someone intentionally decides that they’re not going to adhere in a classroom setting, we counsel the faculty members to simply end class and ask people to safely leave class for the day,” McPheron said.
Shivers said that participating in high risk activities, such as parties, are violations of the Together as Buckeyes Pledge. Students participating in these events, both on and off campus, may be charged with a student conduct violation.
Undergraduate students may not voluntarily participate in the random testing program. Asymptomatic or symptomatic students must have a test ordered by a physician to be conducted at various testing sites around Columbus or on campus, Uhrig said.
In the event that a student’s response to the daily health check on the Ohio State App is flagged for potential COVID-19 symptoms, a response will be sent to the student with instructions on steps moving forward.
“One of the things you can do is reach out to student health or your primary care physician or the coronavirus line with Wexner Medical Center, and they would provide to you details about next steps,” Uhrig said. “You can also call Columbus Public Health as well, and they would provide to you details about if and when you need to get tested.”
Charges for asymptomatic and symptomatic testing that are not a part of the random testing program are billed to the student’s insurance provider, according to Uhrig.
Accommodations for students who must isolate or quarantine
The university defines quarantine as the procedure for individuals who have knowingly been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Isolation procedures are for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The university is in the process of hiring contract tracers in order to identify students who have been exposed to the virus and may need to quarantine, Ryan Lovell, interim dean of students and assistant vice president, said. For students who have been instructed to isolate or quarantine, Lovell said they will have the option to be picked up by a parent to quarantine or isolate at home. For students who wish to stay on campus, the university has set up separate spaces isolation and quarantine housing.
“We’re going to preset some items in there — thermometers, bedsheets, towels — so that students don’t have to bring a lot of different things with them,” Lovell said.
Lovell said dining services will deliver meals to students in quarantine or isolation.
The university is currently looking at ways to support students living off campus who may want to quarantine or isolate themselves outside of their residence, Lovell said.
For students coming from high-risk areas who must quarantine when arriving on campus, they will be able to quarantine in their housing assignment, Lovell said. He said that these students will be asked to fill out a form upon arrival to their residence hall which will notify Residence Life and Dining Services that the student is quarantining due to travel. Accommodations will be made for students to receive meals sent to their building.
These students are being asked to quarantine in their building, but will be able to leave their room to do tasks such as laundry.
For academic accommodations, students are recommended to communicate with their academic advisers in order to continue with their coursework should they have to quarantine or isolate themselves, Kay Wolf, senior vice provost, said. Wolf said that instructors are advised to record their lectures for students who cannot attend due to illness, but that there may be exceptions if an in-person component is necessary to the curriculum, such as labs.
“If a student is registering, I really suggest that they look closely at the courses and see whether it’s a distance or an in-person or a hybrid class to make that decision if they need to be in a distance course,” Wolf said. “And again, I can’t overemphasize working with an adviser to choose your courses and to continue to think about the coursework throughout the semester.”
Refunds and financial aid
McPheron made no indication that refunds will be offered to students for tuition, even if their course load is entirely online.
“The baseline of our tuition is not actually built on the campus experience, per se. It’s built upon the funding that’s required to be able to deliver the kinds of courses and the learning outcomes that we have designed for those courses,” he said.
“Our pledge to you is to deliver that course work and you will receive the full academic credit of that experience, no matter what modality you’ve actually taken to complete the class,” McPheron said.
Shivers said in the event of a campus shutdown, a prorated rate will be applied to housing costs based on the amount of time spent on campus. Students will receive a refund based on this prorated rate, similar to what happened during the spring semester.
The emergency grants offered through the “Together as Buckeyes” program are still available for students experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19, Student Life Chief of Staff Kellie Uhrig said. The grants are made up of funds from the federal CARES act and university donors. Students can apply for these grants on the Student Financial Aid website.
Distribution of personal protective equipment
Uhrig said that personal protective equipment kits will be made available for students at a variety of on-campus sites, including the Ohio Union, RPAC, Younkin Success Center, North Recreation Center and Hale Hall. Other locations are in the process of being confirmed and will be posted on the Health and Safety website. Uhrig said the university is trying to coordinate PPE pick-up sites in housing units off campus such as University Village.
International students will see no change in their immigration record if they take online classes from their home country and maintain a full course load, Carina Hansen, director of international students and scholars, said. She said international students new to Ohio State will not be eligible for an active immigration record until they arrive in the United States. Physical copies of I-20 forms are being mailed to students overseas.
Hansen said that international students can enroll part-time from home and complete their degree.
“An individual in that situation would still need to document why they’re less than full time and complete a reduced enrollment form for us so that they can show why they’re less than full time in their last semester,” Hansen said.
Gil Latz, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs, said the Office of Academic Affairs has created the International Student Success Committee, which will be “a vehicle for receiving questions and transmitting information” for international students.
Opening recreational facilities and libraries
Uhrig said the RPAC will reopen Aug. 10 and other recreational facilities will open on a rolling basis over the next few weeks. She said proper sanitation and hygiene practices will be promoted.
“Everything will be physically distanced and we will require masks immediately before and after workouts,” Uhrig said.
Uhrig encouraged individuals to speak with their physicians about which workouts can be done while wearing a mask and which workouts cannot.
Wolf said that libraries on campus will be open when classes begin and that physical distancing will be applied to seating arrangements. She said smaller classrooms that will not be used for courses this semester will be converted to study rooms to accommodate off-campus students or students who have time between their courses.
Safety for on-campus employees
Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services, said that all campus employees, including student employees, will receive an appropriate amount of personal protective equipment for their given occupation. Employees will also go through a safety training program.
“We’re also working very closely with the Columbus Department of Health and also in consultation with the Ohio Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association to create our plans of how we’re operating our restaurants,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed also announced a safety ambassadors program, which will include student employees working directly with Ahmed to provide continuous feedback to Dining Services.
Lovell said that student staff in residence halls will also be trained on safety procedures and provided personal protective equipment, and that other measures will be taken with guidance from the Ohio Department of Health, such as placing plexiglass barriers in designated isolation/quarantine facilities and ground stickers that enforce physical distancing.
Shared bathroom spaces
Uhrig said that shared bathrooms will be cleaned and disinfected twice a day, using a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency . She said that cleaning procedures are being made in line with national and international cleaning standards.
Lovell stated that exhaust fans will be turned to their maximum setting to cycle air through shared bathrooms as quickly as possible.
“Other things that we’re doing is increasing the filters that are in those fans to the highest rating that those fans can actually support,” Lovell said.
All dining locations that previously provided dine-in options will continue to do so, but will have limited capacity and new seating configurations to comply with physical distancing guidelines set by the state. Students who have the unlimited dining plan will be able to order a meal every two hours from Traditions at Morrill, Traditions at Kennedy and Traditions at Scott. Meals will include an entrée, side, drink and choice of dessert, along with the option to increase or decrease their food intake amount to meet dietary needs.
CABS routes and hours of operation
There was no panelist present during the video conference from the Office of Administration and Planning, which is responsible for campus transportation.
“The challenge we face is that in order to have appropriate physical distancing on our buses, we have a radically reduced capacity. And so our prioritization is from our parking areas to make sure our commuters are able to get back and forth into the campus area,” McPheron said.
McPheron acknowledged that the East Residential bus route, which buses students to off-campus housing east of High Street, will be unavailable for much of the day.
Shivers said that Jay Kasey, vice president of administration and planning, is working on a plan to reintroduce bus routes back into the system as the semester progresses.
McPheron said that the pass/non-pass offered to students during the spring semester was made to accommodate students who were dealing with the upheaval of changes caused by the pandemic. He said that the university plans to use the normal grading period for this academic year, including for online courses.
“I will make a point of doubling back with our student government leaders to explore a little further whether there are circumstances that we ought to be thinking about,” McPheron said. “It will of course be a choice that would have to go through the senate process should we choose to make it.”