The new school year is slated to begin Sept. 8 at the University of Mary with a variety of measures in place aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Many students are expected to return to the campus south of Bismarck, which has established a five-tier system identifying the risk posed by the virus and how the university will respond. The various levels spell out requirements for social distancing, mask wearing, dining capacity and other aspects of college life. Last fall, the school welcomed about 2,400 undergraduate and graduate students to its main campus with others at its satellite facilities.
The school anticipates opening at “Level 3,” which indicates a moderate risk and will require people on campus to maintain social distancing in common spaces and classrooms.
“Social distancing is staying 6 feet apart, and when you can’t do that for an extended period of time, you must wear face coverings,” said Jerome Richter, executive vice president of the university. “One thing that we will require is that everyone has a face covering ready and available on their person so that in case you come into a situation, you can wear your face mask."
U-Mary is working to identify the best location for each class on campus so that students and faculty can spread out.
“We’re going to try to use all the spaces as well as we can,” Richter said.
If it’s impossible to keep a 6-foot distance, people in the class will need to wear a mask. In addition to in-person classes, all courses also will be delivered remotely so that any students unable to physically attend can still complete their work. Remote learning will be available for students not living on campus during the school year, and it’s also meant for students who test positive for the virus.
The university is asking students to sign an honor code in which they commit to notifying the school if they test positive for COVID-19. The North Dakota Department of Health, which oversees testing and contact tracing in the state, must abide by federal health privacy laws and cannot automatically notify the school that a student has tested positive, Richter said.
Students also are to inform U-Mary if a contact tracer tells them they must stay away from others for a period of time because they have been exposed to the virus.
Richter said students will need to either download the state’s contact tracing mobile app or maintain a written log of the places they visit. They, along with employees, also will undergo online training to familiarize themselves with important information concerning the virus.
Students who live on campus and test positive will be isolated and moved to a portion of a residence hall where 58 beds have been designated for them, Richter said. The school will ensure meal delivery to their rooms. Those living off-campus who test positive will need to isolate at their homes.
Faculty with underlying health conditions who are concerned about the risk of teaching in-person will work with their supervisors on accommodations, Richter said. The school is taking various steps to ensure a safer work environment across campus, including installing plastic shields in places such as the bookstore and placing hand sanitizer in many areas.
U-Mary has a health clinic where students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, such as a cough, fever or shortness of breath, can go to get tested. The school also is working with state officials to coordinate more widespread testing of people on campus.
The university plans to communicate with students via text message, email and website alerts about the risk level. If the situation escalates to a higher tier, the university would impose more stringent mitigation measures such as closing the campus to commuter students and canceling events. At the highest tier where university administrators deem the risk to be “critical,” they would close the campus to all but essential employees, and all classes would move online.
The school’s emergency response team has been developing the campus plan this summer and sought guidance from various state health officials and others in the community.
“I’m proud of this because it’s both reasonable and safe,” Richter said. “It isn’t racing to one extreme.”
Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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