HYDE PARK — More than two-thirds of University of Chicago students are scheduled to return to campus later this month as the Hyde Park school tries to manage coronavirus restrictions when it starts its fall quarter.
UChicago leaders laid out their reopening plans at a Thursday forum for South Side residents. Students begin moving into on-campus housing on a staggered schedule Sunday.
The university will hold some classes in-person this fall, following an all-virtual spring quarter. Most classes will be online or a hybrid of online and in-person instruction. Remote classes begin Sept. 29, with in-person instruction starting Oct. 5 and finishing before Thanksgiving.
Review sessions and final exams, held virtually, will be conducted Nov. 30–Dec. 12.
About 70 percent of the student body intends to return to campus this quarter, said Provost Ka Yee Lee, with the rest opting to learn from home. UChicago had more than 17,000 students enrolled as of 2019.
“While we are returning to campus, we are not returning to life as usual,” Lee said.
Residence halls will operate at about 60 percent capacity and all students will be assigned to single rooms. Students living in residence halls must take a free coronavirus test before moving in with mandatory weekly testing continuing through the quarter.
Common areas will be closed, and the number of students allowed at one time in laundry rooms, elevators and other essential “high-traffic” areas will be limited.
Visitors and gatherings of any kind are prohibited in residence halls. Students may have one resident of their same hall in their room at a time — but only if they keep a 6-foot distance and wear masks.
Students who test positive while living in residence halls will be immediately isolated. They will receive meals and mail delivered to their door, and their classes will be held remotely.
For students living off-campus — which includes a “large number” of undergraduates and all graduate students — the university won’t deliver food to their door if they test positive for the virus. Instead, they’ll be responsible for acquiring their own meals, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen said.
However, off-campus students will have 24/7 access to the student wellness center and the university’s telehealth system.
“We’re not going to leave them to their own devices,” Rasmussen said, adding student leadership will also “find ways to support fellow students” living on- and off-campus.
Hyde Park’s coronavirus positivity rate is 3.2 percent and shrinking, and there are fewer than 15 coronavirus patients currently receiving treatment at UChicago Medicine, according to infectious disease expert Dr. Emily Landon.
“At the same time, we know that those numbers and that low transmission rate in Hyde Park … is not the same across the country,” Landon said. The reopening plan is a “dynamic situation” and is subject to change at any time, she said.
There isn’t any one “trigger” for making drastic changes to the plans, and numerous options are available if the pandemic worsens, said Katie Callow-Wright, chief of staff in the university’s President’s Office.
Coronavirus positivity rates, testing capacity and staffing availability are among the most important factors officials will monitor.
A return to fully virtual learning is on the table, but reducing in-person extracurriculars, having more staffers work from home and moving to an all-takeout dining plan are all “different levers we can pull” if a cluster of cases hits campus, Callow-Wright said.
Officials have focused exclusively on planning for the fall quarter to date, and will soon begin work on addressing the rest of the academic year, Lee said.
Residents from surrounding South Side communities submitted questions and said they were concerned about how the university is coordinating with major Hyde Park and Woodlawn landlords, how officials will enforce a ban on parties and and how leaders plan to handle out-of-state students moving back to campus.
Universities throughout the country have struggled with students testing positive for coronavirus in recent weeks, in large part because officials say students are continuing to socialize in large groups on- and off-campus.
The university’s Office of Commercial Real Estate has “occasionally received concerns about buildings where another resident or staff person isn’t following COVID measures,” and the office follows up on those complaints, Callow-Wright said.
Landlords and neighbors can also report concerns about off-campus student behaviors and potential coronavirus exposures by emailing the university at C19HealthReport@uchicago.edu.
Students moving from other states and countries will be informed of city and state policies, such as a required 14-day quarantine if they’re moving from a state listed on Chicago’s emergency travel order. Every off-campus student is also required to self-report positive coronavirus tests.
“There will be cases, and it’s going to be challenging for the students on our campus to adjust to life in college without the things that they used to have,” Landon said. “But we’re committed to making sure that they have other opportunities for socialization, and help understanding … how to socialize during a pandemic.”
A recording of the chat will be available Monday on the university’s hub for reopening plans. Other presentations on fall quarter plans are also available on the site.
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