KINGSTON – The University of Rhode Island has announced plans to welcome students back in September, but according to officials, “there will be a number of changes to the look and feel of the campus this fall.”

In order to assure the health and safety of all students, faculty and staff, various steps and precautions will be taken, including ongoing wellness checks. Everyone coming onto campus will be required to conduct symptom monitoring each day, and testing will be conducted to help minimize the likelihood of outbreaks.

While on campus, members of the community will be required to wear face masks and maintain a distance of at least six feet from one another. New hand sanitizing stations are also being added to throughout the campus, emphasizing the need for frequent and thorough hand washing.

The university also announced that they’ll be “launching a public health campaign this summer to reinforce the responsibility each of us has to take care of ourselves and, in doing so, help to keep our community healthy in the midst of a global pandemic.”

According to  Assistant Communications Director Dave Lavallee, plans to reopen the campus have been carefully reviewed and coordinated with the help of the Rhode Island Department of Health. These plans also align with recently published guidelines from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Falling in line with these guidelines, the university has stated that “a portion of courses must be offered online to reduce the number of people in classrooms.” This will help to mitigate risks, and to help meet that end, URI will be “investing in state-of-the-art learning software applications and advanced synchronous technology in most of [their] classrooms.”

“Carefully designed and reduced density in-person instruction will be a critical component of instruction this fall and will be supplemented by online and blended teaching and learning,” according to Lavallee. “High-quality online learning will be part of higher education and URI in the future and is a teaching/learning modality that will only expand, improve, and innovate over time.”

By the end of the summer, hundreds of faculty will have taken one or more of the online pedagogy or bootcamp trainings offered by the Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, according to Lavallee.  

“As plans are finalized, information will be sent to faculty and students regarding any changes to their class schedules, mode of class instruction, and details on how to request accommodations if needed.”

Other CDC guidelines for institutions of higher education, apart from a greater blend of in-person and online instruction, include modified layouts that assure six feet of distance when possible and hosting smaller classes in large rooms, 

Universities are encouraged to close shared spaces such as dining halls, game rooms, exercise rooms, and lounges when possible. Those who are unable to completely shut down shared spaces are instructed to stagger use and restrict the number of people allowed in at one time. 

While in use, institutions must ensure everyone obeys social distancing guidelines and that surfaces are cleaned and disinfected between uses.

In other shared spaces, the CDC guidelines call for added physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks and beds – especially when they cannot be at least six feet apart.

Another way to prevent the spread of the virus on college campuses, according to the CDC, is to provide grab-and-go options for meals. If dining halls are used, it’s recommended that students be served individually plated meals, as opposed to buffet or self-serve stations. 

Schools are also encouraged to use disposable utensils and plates, but if not possible or undesirable, to have these items handed with gloves.  

According to Lavallee, the university is “fully aware of and continues to carefully monitor the dynamic nature of this virus and the transmission patterns locally, nationally and globally.” 

“While we cannot guarantee that there will not be any new cases of COVID-19 this fall, our plans are designed to mitigate risk of infection and require the cooperation of the entire URI community,” Lavallee. “At this time, progress in Rhode Island and in our community is very encouraging. If virus conditions were to change, we are prepared to act accordingly.”

The announcement to reopen campus in the fall has been warmly welcomed by many students, who are eager to get back to class after their last semester was cut short. The plans are also encouraging to members of the greater community who rent houses to college students, and businesses that are partitioned by the temporary residents. 

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