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Reopening, Safety town hall covers changes made to campus life for fall semester

Reopening, Safety town hall covers changes made to campus life for fall semester

Reopening, Safety town hall covers changes made to campus life for fall semester
July 06
10:34 2020

President Neal Smatresk held a town hall June 22 on the university’s plan for reopening campus, COVID-19 testing, changes to facilities and residence halls and how it will provide the “college experience” despite the changes.

The town hall livestream experienced technical difficulties and did not originally broadcast in full. The full video and transcript of the meeting were released July 1.

“[O]ur safety and our success for this fall is dependent on how we work with each other,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said. “We’re all very excited about returning.”

The panel discussed the university’s treatment plan for potentially sick students. Visitors of the Student Health and Wellness Center will be screened for symptoms and temperature checked. Those with results consistent with COVID-19 will be isolated from the rest of the clinic and attended by staff with appropriate PPE. 

“I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job of staying on top of what we can to protect the health and safety of not only our students, but our staff working here at the Student Health and Wellness Center,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cynthia Hermann said. 

Chestnut Hall currently offers COVID-19 testing from an offsite lab, which yields results in two to five days. The center is working to obtain on-campus testing kits capable of displaying results in less than 15 minutes. A random sampling test group that focuses on students in residence halls will start at the beginning of the fall semester to establish a baseline of the virus’s presence on campus. 

Vice President of Student Affairs Elizabeth With said triple-occupancy rooms inside residence halls will now house no more than two students at a time. On August 14, 15 and 16, students will move in within pre-reserved appointments to minimize the number of people in the hall at one time.

A self-monitoring health form will be sent out to on-campus residents a few weeks before the August move-in, “because we know that we want our students living on campus to be safe as well,” With said. 

The university’s dining halls and retail sites will have socially-distanced seating plans and lines. Unlike previous semesters, students can choose to dine in-hall or take their food to go.  

“We’re going to get rid of all the self-service options so that people can’t be taking things, everything will be served to them or it will be grab-and-go,” With said. 

Signage has been placed around campus to aid in social distancing and direct the flow of foot traffic in some areas. Additional hand sanitizing stations will be present in each university building. Campus water fountains will be turned off, with stand-alone bottle filling stations still available.    

The panel also addressed concerns about students missing a “real” college experience. Student organizations are expected to function safely in the fall. University-sponsored events are also planned to take place, although it is unclear under what capacity.  

“We expect to be able to offer group events and begin to have the kind of student engagement that our students really want to be a part of,” Provost Jennifer Crowley said. 

Roughly 50 percent of classes have been transitioned to remote learning, with the other half still in-person with socially distanced classrooms. Any student who contracts COVID will be able to participate in their classes via Zoom, with accommodations available if they are too ill to complete classwork.

In regards to students with pre-existing health conditions, Crowley said “our advisors are prepared to help support our students who may have a need to be fully remote in the fall.”

For students in need of financial support, $4.5 million of funds from the CARES Act will still be available in the fall. Students will also still have the opportunity to work on campus in a variety of positions. 

“Our hope is to have as many students working on campus as we can […] we likely will have some students telecommuting in the fall semester,” With said. 

Closing out the panel, President Smatresk said, “We’re shooting to be an exemplar of how to do this […] right and make sure that people still get the kinds of on-campus experiences that they really want to have.”

The full video and transcript of the town hall can be found at the Office of the President’s website

Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk listens to an audience member during presidential town hall on Feb. 20, 2020. Image by John Anderson

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Ileana Garnand

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