COVID-19 Update: July 15, 2020
Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:
I know many of you are anxiously awaiting a comprehensive campus plan for fall operations. Rest assured, the COVID-19 Task Force has been hard at work since late February evaluating our status locally, state-wide, and nationally; communicating any cases or exposures as they arise; planning for safe operations; and sharing educational information in a timely manner to keep you, our campus community, as informed as possible.
The COVID-19 Task Force is led by Dr. Jeff Ryan from the Department of Emergency Management. Dr. Ryan is nationally and internationally known for his work on pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery. He leads a team of faculty and staff who are working cautiously and carefully to reopen campus this fall. A number of subcommittees were formed over the summer semester under the umbrella of the COVID-19 Task Force to design and develop reopening plans for various areas. While the forthcoming comprehensive plan will be posted on JSU’s web site as well as emailed, highlights of that plan can be found below. Our goal at this time is to open the campus under ”new normal” conditions and continue to implement strategies to prioritize health and safety. The COVID-19 Task Force monitors a situational report daily to inform decision-making for reopening plans and will continue to do so throughout the remainder of summer and fall and further, if needed.
We also recognize that as much as we want to return to normal operations, even a “new normal,” JSU’s fall semester will definitely look and feel different from what any of us have ever experienced. We are in the middle of a historical pandemic, and we are learning new information every day. JSU has and will continue to base decisions on the scientific evidence surrounding COVID-19 and pandemic response and recovery.
The first effort at a safe reopening occurred over the summer with the Pandemic Ready™ initiative. The program provided University supervisors with a simple method to prepare their areas for the restoration of campus activities and services during the summer, as well as serving as a continued guide for fall planning. The items on the checklist were derived by the application of concepts, best practices, CDC guidelines, and OSHA requirements. Compliance checks occurred, and buildings/offices received their Pandemic Ready™ stickers, signifying their preparation and compliance.
Masks are and will continue to be required for all faculty, staff, students, and visitors throughout the JSU campus. Masks should always be worn properly and will be required indoors, as well as outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained. Signage has been placed in all buildings/areas indicating the mask requirement. Students and families are required to wear masks when visiting campus for tours and/or attending orientation this summer. As we move forward, more detail will be forthcoming from the Academic Planning Task Force to discuss how to handle any non-compliance issues related to wearing masks and managing the classroom when situations of mask non-compliance occur. Additionally, signage will be placed in numerous locations, instructing everyone about how to wear masks. Finally, upon arrival to campus this fall, students will be receiving a Cocky Cares Kit which includes a JSU-branded face covering, hand sanitizer, and educational materials, all in a clear JSU branded bag. A video campaign to encourage students, faculty, and staff to wear masks is underway.
We have acquired a rapid, point-of-care test for diagnosis of COVID-19 on campus at the Student Health Center. In addition, we have partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham under the Testing for Alabama program to perform reentry testing for all students before they come on campus in the fall and periodic, random sentinel testing of the campus population (2-5%) thereafter, including faculty, staff, and students. The testing approach that JSU is using for the COVID-19 test is the less invasive nasal swab, which will be conducted by the individual, under observation by a healthcare professional. The individual being tested will rotate a swab in the front portion of each nares to collect the specimen. This type of test is a much more tolerable test than the nasopharyngeal swab many of you have heard about or may have experienced.
To augment this testing capability, members of the campus population will record their health status daily using a Gamecock Healthcheck application. It is a requirement of faculty, staff, and students to complete the healthcheck at a minimum of every three days. Information related to COVID-19 symptoms is collected each time the check is complete. The app provides direction as to next steps should a student or employee indicate symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Information recorded for individuals who feel ill will go to a licensed nurse, who will also serve as a systems administrator, for follow-up each day. At the beginning of the fall semester, all employees and students will also be required to view a module specific to COVID-19 as part of the educational component of this plan.
More details on the testing plan, including how students can sign up for appointments, will be forthcoming.
Deans and department heads continue to refine course delivery plans for fall. Classrooms are being set up for social distancing; directional signage is being provided to direct student traffic; masks will also be available for students in classroom buildings, should a student forget his/her/their mask; and, technology needs are being evaluated to facilitate synchronous virtual lectures while some students attend class in person and others attend virtually.
Given the complexities of academics and the types of courses offered with varying enrollment, each academic program or area is evaluating the best way to offer courses. Some faculty may choose to deliver video lectures to students and then have small groups attend class, in a socially distanced classroom, for discussion and/or group work. Some may choose to hold their class at full capacity (especially those with average size of 20-25) in a larger classroom to allow for appropriate social distancing, with all students attending on regular schedule. All options are being considered for fall course delivery, such that a quality educational delivery plan can be maintained. The deans of each school are currently working with department heads to provide more detailed information to students on program-specific delivery. Any changes to course delivery will incorporate accessibility features to ensure that students with disabilities, who have a need for specific access such as captioning or video description, are accommodated.
All courses are listed in the schedule as either hybrid or online. The amount of time students spend in class for hybrid courses is course dependent. The instructor will indicate the details of course meetings in the syllabus. In a few cases, departments are still finalizing the instructional delivery method, and students may see courses changed from hybrid to online or online to hybrid. Students with concerns may contact the department where the course is being taught for more information.
Students who wish to choose online courses for fall based on concerns of exposure, pre-existing health conditions, etc., should consult with their advisor. All courses may not have an in-person, hybrid, and an online option due to the number of faculty needed to provide such options. JSU has always had a selection of courses in-person or online, including many of the general education courses such as English, Math, and History. While some courses may not be offered online, should a student wish to take only online courses this fall, a consultation with his/her advisor may help identify courses to take which are offered online. It is the desire of JSU administration as well as the advisors to work with our students, so that they have the most appropriate schedule to meet their academic needs and, most importantly, their health and safety needs.
Additionally, the Academic Planning Task Force, led by Dr. Joe Walsh, is providing direction and support for all faculty to prepare Web-Enhanced Courses for the fall. This means that all courses will be housed in the Canvas Learning Management System. At a minimum, the syllabus, gradebook, and some of the assignments will be available. Should we have to convert quickly to an online method of delivery, these preparations will provide a more seamless approach. Throughout the summer, professional development and support have been arranged to assist faculty in converting all classes to Web-Enhanced Courses for fall delivery.
Students should be prepared with the appropriate technology in the event online learning is necessary. We recognize that many of our students may live in rural areas where internet issues occur, and in those circumstances, completing class online is difficult at best. More information will be forthcoming for students as to the type of devices needed for fall and options for internet access on campus, including wifi parking lots. As we get closer to the start of fall classes, we will be providing additional information which will assist students in being well prepared for the upcoming semester.
Tuition and Online Courses
Currently, JSU assesses tuition for undergraduate students as in-person/hybrid or online. The same rates as currently advertised will continue for fall. However, if a student must take a course which has traditionally been offered in person and which has been converted online due to faculty accommodations (those high risk, caring for high risk, etc.), then the tuition will remain the same as in-person/hybrid, and the student will not be charged the online differential. Questions about tuition should be directed to Student Accounts at 256-782-5459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will be the only change at this time for tuition charges.
Altered Academic Calendar
As previously communicated, the academic calendar for Fall 2020 has been modified so that no students will be in class (for fall term or fall B term) after Thanksgiving Break, except in unique situations which will require approval. This strategy is being used by many schools to reduce exposure after a long break where travel is occurring with many families. Finals will be online; however, for those students who do have technological issues, options are being explored to use computer labs on campus, if necessary, with appropriate social distancing and masks. For these exams, staff from the Division of Student Success will assist with the proctoring. For those students taking finals online, the University will cover the cost of online test proctoring from Honorlock, the system JSU uses for online test security.
No decisions have been made regarding any alteration in the Spring 2021 calendar.
Disinfecting and Cleaning
JSU has made a significant investment in disinfectants, hand sanitizer, and devices which disinfect large spaces quickly and effectively. Building and Cleaning Services has also increased the frequency of cleaning high touch surfaces in all buildings, as well as restrooms. There will be increased availability of cleaning supplies for residence halls with information on how to clean/disinfect areas between use. Students will be expected to assist in cleaning/disinfecting their desk area in classrooms upon entry and exit of the class. Faculty will be responsible for disinfecting the lecture area and/or desk in the classroom from where he/she teaches. Appropriate cleaning supplies will be provided for these activities.
Housing and Residence Life:
Guidelines and plans for reopening the residential communities have been established by Housing Operations and Residence Life. The move-in process has been restructured to align with social distancing guidelines. In collaboration with Capital Planning and Facilities, the residential communities have been disinfected and robust cleaning protocols have been established for the fall. Some of these protocols include daily cleaning of community bathrooms with a stronger sanitizing disinfectant. High touch-point surfaces (such as community door handles, water fountains, faucets, etc.) will be wiped down multiple times per day. Social distancing and signage reminding residents and guests of the requirement for wearing masks will be placed throughout the residential communities.
Residential spaces have been identified and designated for quarantine and isolation in the event that a resident tests positive.
Residential programming will occur virtually or outdoors using social distancing guidelines. Resident Assistants will receive COVID-19-related sessions during their upcoming training. Residents will be expected to wear masks within residential facilities unless they are in their room. Masks must be worn in laundry rooms, lounges, lobbies, hallways, etc. Residents are strongly advised to bring face masks when they arrive on campus for move in and are encouraged to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms each day. We are encouraging residents to bring cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer for personal use when returning to campus. While we understand many residents are assigned to double occupancy spaces, many have personally selected their roommates and room assignments, increasing their comfort level with being in a residential facility. Common areas in residence halls, such as study lounges, laundry facilities, TV lounges, and the Point@JSU pool, have been reduced to 50% capacity to maintain social distancing guidelines. The gym at the Point@JSU will be closed temporarily. Signage will be posted highlighting these limits.
For students who have disabilities and request a private room as a reasonable accommodation, regardless of COVID-19, and for students with disabilities who request a private room because of COVID-19, the established housing procedures for reasonable accommodation requests with assistance from Disability Student Services (DSS) will be followed. If a student without a disability requests a private room, the request will be handled in the same manner Housing currently uses to evaluate such requests.
Athletics at JSU has a proud tradition and is a tremendous source of Gamecock Pride for our students and alumni. The JSU Athletic Department is dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff. In line with achieving the Phase I/II/III guidelines mandated by the federal government and the State of Alabama, JSU Athletics will open with modified policies, and we will implement safety measures focused on providing a healthier environment. In that regard, the Athletic Department has a very detailed, phased-in return to campus protocol. Initially, our procedures include a 14-day quarantine upon athletes’ return to campus, daily health checks when entering athletic facilities, a cleaning and disinfectant plan, and an equipment services plan, and we anticipate that our protocols involving personnel, student-athletes, and infrastructure, which can be followed/amended as necessary, will be successful.
Events and Activities
Events and activities are being carefully planned with appropriate measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most events or activities will be held outdoors over the next few months with social distancing expectations in place. For activities/events which must be held indoors, a careful review of the space occurs to determine maximum capacity allowing for social distancing, and those numbers dictate who can attend any event. Masks are required at events. Special situations, such as practice for The Marching Southerners, First-Year Student Convocation, Greek Life events, etc., will be managed on a case-by-case basis with detailed attention given to the safety plan for each group. Specific details for events and activities for the various groups on campus will be available in the comprehensive plan.
The most significant upcoming event for faculty, staff, and students is graduation. Graduation plans are still on track for July 31 and August 1 as previously communicated. Graduation will be held outdoors in the stadium at times selected to avoid the hotter parts of the day. Masks will be required of all attending, and guests will be asked to socially distance from other families. Graduates as well as faculty and staff participating in the event will also be socially distanced and masked. Graduates will be provided masks. Guests will not be limited, as long as graduation can be held in the stadium. In the event the ceremonies must move to the Coliseum, guests will be limited to two per student, and the number of ceremonies will be expanded to allow for appropriate social distancing within the Coliseum. Specific information regarding these ceremonies will continue to be communicated to students, faculty, and staff as we near the event. Graduates and faculty/staff will receive a questionnaire prior to the ceremony to assess any signs/symptoms which may reflect COVID-19. If an individual is exhibiting signs/symptoms, then that individual will be asked to remain home. If the individual is a graduate, then the University will work to arrange for the student to participate in a later ceremony. The ceremonies will all be live streamed. This event planning is one example of the intense detail we embark upon to keep our campus safe when planning events.
For faculty/staff, we will host our annual convocation on Monday, August 17, at 8:00 am at the stadium. The Coliseum will be utilized as a weather contingency plan. Masks and social distancing will be required. For our freshman students, First-year Student Convocation will take place Monday, August 17, at 6:30 pm in the stadium. We will also follow social distancing guidelines and mask requirements for this event. For university-related events, students and employees should make attendance decisions based on personal responsibility.
As you can see, many hours of planning have already occurred this summer to prioritize the safety and health of our JSU community. These efforts will continue and will increase as we move into the fall. We have an extremely competent task force in place, and they will continue to guide us as we move forward.
I hope you all enjoy the remaining weeks of summer, and I look forward to seeing you this fall!
Dr. Don C. Killingsworth, Jr.