Ohio University College Gateway

OU’s College Gateway is seen at the intersection of Union and College Streets.

Ohio University has announced plans for the second phase of student return this fall, sending notifications to almost a third of the university’s students Tuesday, Sept. 9, confirming the onset of their in-person classes.

OU opted to implement a phased return of students for the Fall 2020 semester due to fears of a COVID-19 outbreak. Case rates have been rising this week, turning Athens County “orange,” which reflects the higher rate of cases found in the county.

The news of the return of 31 percent of the university’s students — all students enrolled in courses that require an in-person experience, such as music therapy, nursing and photojournalism — was met with mixed reactions. Some questioned the university’s action, citing the current “orange” classification of Athens County, while others rejoiced that there would be more students to help the local economy.

In a statement from OU President M. Duane Nellis, the community was told that there was a possibility of more students returning in the Spring, but by appearances, this would be the last set of students returning during the Fall semester, noting that “Students not included in Phase 2 will continue their courses remotely through the fall semester.”

Students included in Phase 2 have the option to continue with a fully-online course schedule, but some classes may require in-person attendance, Nellis’ letter warned.

Nellis’ letter explained how the university came to determine what programs, classes and subsequent students were to receive the invitation to return. The decision was made with guidance from the OU Chief Medical Affairs Officer, Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations, as well as Athens County Health and Medical Directors, while also taking public health data into account.

“(W)e can best manage risk to our Athens campus community by implementing a model that carefully increases the number of students, access, and engagement on campus but with a commitment to a lower density model that helps enhance opportunities for safety,” Nellis’ letter stated. “At least 7,200 students, representing approximately 31 percent of Athens campus undergraduate enrollment and 100 percent of Athens-based graduate and medical school enrollment, will be invited to the Athens campus during Phase 2.”

Anyone invited to return should have received an email notification of the invitation by Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Students both on- and off-campus are asked to wear face masks, maintain physical distance, limit the size of any gatherings, conduct a daily self-assessment, and report all cases of COVID-19 through the university’s incident reporting site. Any student or employee experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should also call the Ohio University COVID-19 Response Hotline, 877-OU-COV19 (877-682-6819).

Anyone returning for Phase 2 is expected to quarantine for 14 days at their permanent resident before arriving in Athens.

“As we continue to responsibly increase density on campus, the University is working to implement a new testing strategy that will allow us to screen students who are not exhibiting any symptoms,” Nellis wrote. “I hope to share additional details about this in the coming weeks. Students will be expected to participate in asymptomatic testing when invited to participate in surveillance or exposure-based testing.”

How the rest of the Fall Semester goes will determine the rate of student return in the Spring, Nellis noted.

Changes to the university’s curriculums are being overseen by the Ohio University Fall Curriculum Scenario Group, as well as deans, department chairs and directors, and faculty members. The group prioritized eligibility of return for students engaged in academic experiences that require access to in-person instruction, specialized equipment, or specific facilities to ensure academic progress toward degree requirements. The second phase will begin Sept. 28, 2020.

How this will affect dining rates and housing charges has not been announced publicly, with the only a single sentence included in Nellis’ letter noting possible changes to the university’s fees.

“Housing and Residence Life will communicate directly with eligible Phase 2 students regarding housing assignments, dining plans, and move-in details,” the letter stated.

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