Pacer Ready, Set, Return / Fall 2020
The COVID-19 Mitigation Plan
Governor Henry McMaster, on the advice of public health experts, provided a set of conditions, which, if satisfied, allow universities to reopen their campuses. Conditions in the state of South Carolina are such that the prevalence of COVID-19 is low enough to resume campus operations safely.
UofSC Aiken has developed a five-pronged approach for the safe return of students and employees. This includes plans for:
- the repopulation of the campus using a phased process.
- mitigating the spread of the virus through a higher level of sanitation and disinfecting of classrooms and common spaces throughout the campus, social distancing, health monitoring, and the wearing of masks and face shields.
- monitoring health conditions to detect infection, including the ability to test students on campus.
- containment to prevent the spread of the disease when detected, including comfortable rooms where a student with COVID-19 can recuperate in a separate housing facility.
- a shutdown if conditions change, and it becomes necessary for the Governor to issue a statewide order.
The COVID-19 public health issues involved in reopening vary considerably across the state’s institutions. At UofSC Aiken, courses are taught in relatively small classes of seven to thirty students, making it easier to accommodate physical distancing during the pandemic.
Mitigating the risk factors associated with COVID-19 requires careful consideration of every aspect of institutional operations. Aided by health expert advice, the university has determined the steps to be taken at each venue and function to reduce the risk of exposure. Of course, until there is a viable vaccine for COVID-19, there will remain some risk. That is why it is crucial for every member of the Pacer community to take personal responsibility for their health and to think about the safety of others in our community continually. The university will establish and enforce plans to mitigate exposure.
Specifically, the UofSC plan for a safer return to the campus includes the following:
Reopening in Phases with Alternatives for Those at High Risk
While the virus’s prevalence is low enough to resume campus operations safely, the course of the pandemic cannot be predicted. Some individuals with the virus are asymptomatic, so individuals with existing health conditions are encouraged to work and study from home. The university is putting more courses online for the fall semester to accommodate students, faculty, and staff with special circumstances.
Rearranging the Fall Calendar
The CDC and S.C. DHEC healthcare specialists believe that the coronavirus follows the pattern of the flu season. For that reason, UofSC Aiken has modified the fall calendar so that classes end before Thanksgiving, reducing the number of students on campus between mid-November and January, thus reducing infection rates.
Providing Diagnostic Testing Throughout the Year
Working with Aiken Regional Medical Center, the university is ensuring that we have an adequate supply of viral diagnostic tests and can adequately administer and process the COVID-19 tests. All students living in university housing will be tested. As the semester proceeds, all faculty, staff, and students will have access to professionally administered tests throughout the year.
Education about the Virus and Personal Care
All employees and students will be provided with educational materials and instructional videos about safe behavior and recognizing symptoms of the virus. Members of the university community will be asked to remain aware of their health status and go to the University’s Health Clinic or their health care providers for testing at the first sign of symptoms.
If an infection is detected, the university will isolate the infected student for 14 days, trace contacts, quarantine all roommates and suitemates, and consider quarantining others with close contact. Those who have been in contact with the infected student will be tested. The university has set aside adequate space and meal service protocols to accommodate isolation. Although most cases are likely to be mild, given the students’ age, daily video calls with a nurse will be provided while a student is isolated. Students who must be isolated will be made comfortable in a convenient campus apartment, with access to meal delivery and a kitchen. The university’s network will allow these students to remain connected to their professors, course work, and support systems. Employees who become infected should stay at home and see their health care providers.
UofSC Aiken, working with SCDHEC, will have adequate capacity to locate the contacts of those testing positive for infection. This process requires training enough people on campus to serve as contact tracers.
Relying on an infected student’s memory may be challenging. The university is developing a mobile phone app to track entry into rooms throughout the day to supplement traditional approaches to contact tracing.
The university will require the wearing of facemasks in classrooms and spaces where physical distancing is not possible. Additionally, the number of individuals in dorm rooms, dining halls, classrooms, labs and studios, and other areas will be limited.
The university asks that employees and students come to campus with a face covering and will have PPE supplies available in the bookstore.
Social Distancing and Business Practices/Meetings
Throughout 2020-21 the university will continue to host most meetings through video conferencing. Advising and all meetings, regardless of type, should take place remotely if it is impossible to meet and maintain a six-foot distance between participants. For business meetings, Microsoft TEAMS is the preferred video conferencing platform.
Staff should arrange offices so that there is a minimum of six feet between workstations.
Computer labs and offices with public interfacing can be outfitted with Plexiglas or other forms of screening to provide extra safety measures. Seats and Tables in some spaces will be removed or will receive signs that indicate that they should not be used to provide appropriate distancing.
Returning to campus requires that the university maintains public health guidelines on cleaning regimes, especially in residence halls and shared spaces. UofSC Aiken has partnered with the nationally respected Allegiance Services to provide a higher level of sanitation. Steps are being taken to make sure that we have adequate cleaning protects on hand. Building managers working closely with the Physical Plant and Procurement will help ensure that classrooms, restrooms, and offices have appropriate cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer available throughout the day.
Campus Sports and Events
While the university community is required to maintain safe practices, there will be plenty of great activities available to enhance the “going to college” experience. Care will be taken to social distance and wear masks as needed at every event. UofSC Aiken is a member of the NCAA and supports a range of sports through DII’s Peach Belt Conference. The university will follow NCAA and Peach Belt Conference guidelines for athletics to help keep student-athletes, coaches, officials, and fans safe.
UofSC Aiken will continue to communicate with faculty, staff, and students through weekly updates and videoconferencing town-hall meetings. Parents and family members are encouraged to sign up for updates through the Office of Parent and Family Services.
External Groups on Campus
Throughout the summer, all external groups visiting campus must have the External Group Management Team’s approval. The team will review the request for a camp, large meeting, performance or gathering, and the associated risks.
Closure if Warranted
UofSC Aiken, working with health officials, will determine the circumstances that might warrant closing the campus. The university will have a plan for an orderly shutdown. Courses and academic support will continue through remote learning options. A closure may come from a statewide order or result from circumstances on campus.