College life at USD saw many changes during the 2020-21 school year after a surge in the pandemic. Life on campus was full of mask-wearing students who were told to stay six feet apart at all times. For many of the students, a schedule full of Zoom classes became a new normal, but that is soon to change.
All current USD students were sent an email from President Sheila Gestring March 16 outlining the new “normal” fall semester hopes for USD.
Kevin O’Kelley, the assistant vice president of research compliance for USD and member of USD’s COVID-19 Task Force, has been working with USD to get campus life back to normal operating procedures as quickly as possible.
“The goal for the fall is to have no masks, no physical distancing. There will be football games, in-person classes, crowds, fall concerts, Strollers, tailgates and everything else we know to be normal,” O’Kelley said.
While the discussion of whether Zoom will still be offered to students who are unable to attend classes in person is still ongoing, the vast majority of classes are expected to return to in-person instruction.
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“Teachers like to teach,” O’Kelley said. “We are trained and experienced to teach in person, and we like teaching in person more than we like teaching online. We will continue to offer plenty of online classes but in general we’re going to go back to the way things were.”
While as of now, the university plans to discard all safety precautions that were put in place because of COVID-19 regulations, O’Kelley believes there are certain health practices society as a whole has adopted during the pandemic that won’t change anytime soon.
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“I think we’re always going to expect you to wear masks when you’re sick,” O’Kelley said. “I expect we will have masks for people serving food. Some things are going to change forever, but they’re protective things, good things, not really restrictive things.”
Along with masks being worn when illness is discovered and kitchen personnel continuing to wear masks, the university has also discussed maintaining their deep cleaning regimen because of the low number of flu cases they saw this year, O’Kelley said.
If the models and trends that O’Kelley and the university have been closely following continue moving in the right direction, USD is hoping to have all operating procedures back to the way they were two years ago as soon as move-in day.
There are still a lot of variables at play that will determine how fall semester will look at USD. As long as COVID-19 variants don’t get out of hand and the vast majority of people have the ability to get vaccinated, O’Kelley is hopeful that the return to “normal” operating procedures at USD is getting close.
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“We’re not there yet, we still have sick people in South Dakota. So until we beat this pandemic, we need to still be careful,” O’Kelley said. “Continue to wear our masks, practice physical distancing and be sane. Everything protective you do this spring and summer will help us return to our normal default procedures.”