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USF targets fall semester for full return to on-campus instruction, activities

Brian Hartz

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USF
USF is preparing for a return to on-campus classes and activities in the fall semester.

The University of South Florida is planning for a return to pre-Covid normalcy when its fall semester begins.

In fact, in-person course delivery, on-campus activities and on-campus residential life will begin to ramp up during the summer session that starts June 28, USF President Steve Currall announced Wednesday. However, online classes will still be offered “for students who find them more convenient and to ensure access and progress to timely graduation,” Currall said in a statement posted on the USF website.

The university, he added, will work with employees in the months ahead to plan for a safe return to in-person duties and responsibilities.

Currall, however, said USF’s reopening is not set in stone. The university, he stated, will rely on the scientific advice of public health and infectious disease experts, along with government agencies, and that USF will adjust its plans, if needed, in accordance with changing conditions.

“The University of South Florida continues to closely monitor public health data and to prioritize the health and safety of our university community,” Currall said. “As we navigate these next important steps, I wish to express my thanks for the many ways that USF continues to demonstrate a commitment to community. I’m grateful for the hard work, dedication and continued vigilance of our students, faculty and staff.”

USF is in the second phase of its reopening process, which allows for 50 percent of its staff to return to on-campus work, although those who can work remotely are urged to continue to do so. Courses are being delivered through a combination of face-to-face, hybrid and online instruction. Face coverings are still required to be worn on all campuses, while meetings and events are recommended to be held virtually for the time being.

“We are encouraged by the latest information and modeling that provides an increasingly optimistic outlook for a return to more in-person activities sometime this summer and by the fall,” stated Donna Petersen, chair of USF’s Covid-19 Task Force and dean of the USF College of Public Health. “While it makes sense to plan for the summer and fall semesters now, in the coming months we must remain vigilant and committed to safe practices, including wearing face coverings and physical distancing, in order to get ahead of the virus and drive down the numbers more quickly.”

USF Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox, speaking to the Catalyst, said USF’s fall reopening won’t be a total reset to pre-pandemic times. “We have no intention of stepping back our public health surveillance,” he said. Daily temperature checks and other preventative measures will remain in place.

“In the summer,” Wilcox added, “we’ll continue our physical distancing with limited class capacity on campus. The good thing is that in summer, we generally have plenty of available classroom capacity. So this will enable us to have just as many face-to-face classes on campus as in the summer of 2019, but fewer students in those classes. So we can accommodate student demand but not compromise physical distancing.”

Wilcox said coronavirus variants are of some concern and so USF will continue to closely monitor the findings and recommendations of public health officials and its own epidemiologists. “We’ve come to learn that with this virus, a lot can change in a short period of time,” he said, reiterating Currall’s point that adjustments could be made based on new data.

But with infection rates dropping and vaccines on the way for young adults later in the year, Wilcox said it’s time to move from planning to actively preparing for a return to some semblance of pre-Covid life. He anticipates a “full schedule of on-campus classes on each of our campuses and the campus-wide activities that so many of our students have been starving for. There’s a massive, pent-up appetite, particularly among high school graduates from last year, and those graduating this year, who have been robbed the opportunity to experience campus life in their high schools and universities.”

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