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People walk and relax on UGAs North Campus in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; @taylormckenzie_photo)

A Tuesday Zoom call between members of the University of Georgia administration began with questions directed to the president of the university: “What scares you about this fall? What keeps you up at night?”

“You worry about what you haven’t thought about and you worry about what could happen,” President Jere Morehead responded.

As the beginning of the fall semester draws nearer, members of the administration discussed questions submitted by students, faculty members, staff and parents about UGA’s reopening plan in a public Zoom meeting called "Campus Conversation on COVID-19." Questions ranged from class formats and online learning to what students should do if they test positive for COVID-19.

How will classes work?

Classes will be largely on-campus with social distancing, Rahul Shrivastav, vice president for instruction, said. Professors are finalizing their syllabi and are in the process of emailing students with information about their class formats.

Classrooms have been modified to allow for social distancing during in-person classes. Some classes are using a hybrid, or HyFlex, model with part online and part in-person learning, with professors rotating groups of students to go to class in person.

Classes that are being moved online are currently being coded in Athena, Shrivastav said. Students should be receiving emails from their professors about their class formats. He encouraged professors to publish their eLearning Commons pages as soon as possible.

Faculty members were not allowed to determine by themselves whether their class would be online, Libby Morris said. Morris is the director of UGA’s Institute of Higher Education and moderated the discussion. The decision to move classes online was made through three layers of personnel — associate dean, dean and provost — in order to “think more broadly about student success,” Shrivastav said.

The decision to move classes completely online and close campus will be determined by the University System of Georgia, not UGA, Morehead said.

“Hypotheticals are always difficult to answer,” Morehead said.

The USG has not publicized what specifically would cause a pivot to online instruction, such as a certain number of confirmed cases or deaths. Morehead said UGA will work with USG, the Georgia Department of Public Health, local hospitals and public health experts to “assess community conditions,” but can’t make the decision to move online or close campus.

UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services held up well during the spring pivot to online instruction, Shrivastav said, and UGA has made updates to eLC since March. The updates include integrating video recordings into eLC, which will make it easier for faculty to upload recorded lectures.

UGA is moving to online instruction after Thanksgiving break, which means final exams will be taken online. A proctoring solution for final exams has been integrated into eLC for exams, Shrivastav said.

Shrivastav noted that students will likely have less problems with internet access than they did over the spring because they’ll be on campus.

“We learned very quickly that a number of our students were struggling with access to technology, access to bandwidth,” Shrivastav said. “Broadband access was a big concern. Having students back on campus alleviates that a little bit.”

What happens when a student tests positive for COVID-19?

UGA will test 300 asymptomatic student, faculty and staff volunteers a day as part of its surveillance testing plan. The Medical Oversight Task Force also recommended that 24,000 tests be conducted by Thanksgiving break.

No one from the UGA administration on the Zoom call provided an explanation for why UGA will not test all students, faculty and staff before they return to campus.

The University Health Center will conduct active COVID-19 tests on symptomatic people. Provost Jack Hu said he believes UHC will be able to report test results between 48 and 72 hours after the test is conducted, which is “much faster” than current test result times.

Georgia Tech plans to test 1,500 asymptomatic people a day, according to an email sent Tuesday to Tech students and employees.

Masks will be required on campus in the fall, and “an extremely small amount of students” have an accommodation to not wear a mask, Victor Wilson said. If students refuse to wear a mask in designated areas, they will be asked to put one on.

Professors should email Student Affairs if they have issues with students not wearing masks, according to Wilson, the vice president for student affairs. Student Affairs will reach out to the student and faculty member to resolve the situation, and may involve Student Conduct, which handles disciplinary measures for code of conduct violations.

Students who test positive for COVID-19 should leave campus as soon as possible, Wilson said. The university is working on providing an isolation space for students living on-campus who can’t return to their permanent residence, but didn’t explain what that space will look like. Students living off-campus will coordinate with Student Care and Outreach through the DawgCheck app to find a place to isolate if there are no housing options for them.

“All students should begin really honestly to have conversations now with their roommate, with their apartment mates, as to what will happen. What are we going to do and plan for this before it happens so that we can be proactive,” Wilson said.

Students with roommates who test positive for COVID-19 should prepare “to do the same thing that a family would do” and all self-isolate, Wilson said.

The criteria for self-isolation has been evolving over the past four months, according to Shelley Nuss, campus dean of the Augusta University and UGA Medical Partnership. Before returning to campus, students need to isolate for 10 days and be fever-free for 24 hours with no medication. They also need to have improvement of symptoms.

When asked about UGA’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, Lisa Nolan, chair of the Preventative Measures Advisory Board, said they are being evaluated and retrofitted to provide safe air. Older systems aren’t as good at providing a high volume of outside air.

It is unlikely that COVID-19 can travel long distances through air vents, according to the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2012, UGA has used HVAC systems that have ultraviolet components, Nolan said. UV light can kill viruses, but the research on how it affects the coronavirus isn’t complete. It’s unclear if UGA’s HVAC system has the right kind of UV lights to kill the virus.

Economic fallout

Morehead said while UGA is dealing with reopening amid COVID-19, they are also navigating economic challenges.

Some staff members are concerned about losing their job if the university closes. “Faculty who keep asking for UGA to close have job protections that staff do not have,” Morris read from a question. “Many staff want UGA to stay open.”

Morehead said staff jobs were preserved in the spring, and that he was focusing on preserving jobs for UGA employees in the future.

“We want to continue to serve our students as effectively as possible. But at the same time, we want to preserve the health and safety of our campus community, and we want to preserve as many jobs as possible,” Morehead said. “We will continue to do our best to fulfill those objectives in the coming weeks and months ahead.”

Morehead said UGA has been “very fortunate so far” in dealing with the economic fallout from COVID-19. He pointed to refunds in housing and student fees in the spring that happened without people losing their jobs. UGA used savings as well as money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Morehead said. The CARES Act provided funds to send cash to students who were affected by school closures, and money for the university to use.

Morehead said the future was uncertain — the USG cut its budget by 10% for the upcoming school year after revenue loss, and UGA’s “carefully built-up reserves” have been used.

“Those options are now over,” Morehead said. “We have played that hand.”

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(1) comment

JimH

It was like watching Donald Trump being interviewed by a low budget Fox and Friends. Offensively bad propaganda.

Exception being Dr. Russo's explanation and the ELC situation update by Rahul Shrivastav.

Of particular disgust was the threat to fire university staff should faculty demand the school go online.

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