Five and a half months after students and staff were sent home, classes are back in full swing. However, after 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the USD community and 637 students and staff quarantined in the first two weeks of classes, USD is making adjustments in COVID-19 policy to avoid sending students home once again.
In an email from the Dean of Students on August 28, the university announced it is taking new precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
These new guidelines include the elimination of indoor dining at the Muenster University Center, a reduction to 30% patron capacity at the Wellness Center and the disallowance of outside visitors in the residence halls.
“Due to a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus (the week of August 24-28),” according to the email. “(USD) must reassess our campus operations and take action to protect our community.”
Kevin O’Kelley, a member of USD’s COVID-19 task force, said steps like these are done out of caution to enable USD to execute its mission as well as protect Vermillion’s local health care system.
“If we are not capable of delivering our mission safely: education, research, and service; we have to consider changes,” said O’Kelley. “If our healthcare capacity is threatened in Vermillion, we would have to consider changes as well.”
O’Kelley said the task force has been taking note of precautions universities across the country have taken. Some of these provisions include closing fraternities and sororities, masks being required outside and all classes being moved online while students stay on campus.
“If we went to Board of Regents level four risk, then we might move to online, but we wouldn’t kick people out of the dormitories necessarily,” O’Kelley said. “Some people live too far away, are international students or have a family member who is immunocompromised. Kids still need to be social too, and they could still do that in the dorms.”
The actual limit of student coronavirus cases USD can house and isolate on campus is roughly 100, O’Kelley said. However, many who test positive either don’t live on campus and isolate on their own or move back with their parents to isolate. Consequently, the number of cases USD can hold will likely not be a limiting factor, O’Kelley said.
“The threshold that would actually cause a move to remote learning is unknown as of now,” O’Kelley said. “The university is reevaluating circumstances every day for those kinds of decisions.”
In the event campus would have to close, USD has had more time to prepare for remote learning as well as all of the other complexities it would bring, O’Kelley said.
“In the spring we had only a week to prepare for the delivery of online courses. Now, our entire curriculum, with a few exceptions, such as labs, are prepared to go online with distance education,” O’Kelley said. “I am sure the university is considering giving housing refunds as they did in the spring as well.”
However, O’Kelley said he believes USD can avoid this. He said if students and staff abide by guidelines set by USD on campus, as well as CDC guidelines outside of class and on weekends, the university will have a successful semester in Vermillion.