Colleges ramp up COVID-19 protocols before year begins
Hendrik Sybrandy

Sarah Watamura played tour guide as she showed how learning will take place when the University of Denver reconvenes in mid-September.

"All our classrooms have been adjusted so they are maximum occupancy of 50% with a six-foot bubble around each person," said Watamura, D.U.'s COVID-19 Response Coordinator.

To reach that two-meter bubble, students and instructors will have to use hand sanitizer at the front of the classroom to clean their hands, then use disinfectant wipes to clean the area where they sit.

"When you come into the room you can see that some chairs are decommissioned, out of service," Watamura added. "So they would choose a chair that's available and then prepare to participate in the class."

D.U.'s goal is to offer the high-quality education students have come to expect, safely.

"So we are trying to balance those two things and do adaptations that allow at least some of our normal activities to happen in person," Watamura said.

It's a balance colleges and universities across the country are busy trying to strike, using public health guidelines to re-open during the pandemic even while some schools, like powerhouse institutions such as Harvard, have cancelled in-person classes.

"We've had to really reconfigure all of our space on campus," said Alana Jones, University of Colorado Denver's Interim Vice Provost.

She's helping manage her school's safe return. Social distancing is the focus. The school offers thousands of classes. 40 percent of its students will be on campus at least some of the time.

"So we did a whole recoding and re-rooming process and did it essentially within one month which we've never done before," Jones said. "We have a lot of people working some really long hours to make sure that we do this correctly."

Schools have developed elaborate action plans for reopening. D.U.'s runs 70 pages. Significant purchases of materials and equipment will be required to carry them out. Plexiglass dividers for offices, personal protective equipment, signage and technology for more students to attend class remotely will cost schools millions of dollars, on top of pandemic-related financial losses this past spring.

"So there are a lot of different expenditures required for this and it's got to be a priority with the university in order to safely bring the campus back," said Lori Lynn who helps run Colorado State University's Pandemic Preparedness Team.

Performing arts at D.U. could be most affected by the new safety protocols. Less group singing. Parts of bathrooms have even been taken out of service. Physical changes aside, the motto here will be 'keep moving.'

"If you have questions for your instructor, don't ask them at the start or end of class so that we can promptly end classes, have that class exit and have the next group come in without overlapping congregation," Watamura said.

Schools are thinking of everything.

"We are going to give it our best shot," she said.

"It's going to look very different for the students," Jones added.

They'll discover that for themselves, over the next month or two.

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