Ohio State leaders discuss return-to-campus plans in town hall
Increase in vaccination expected to allow for more in-person opportunities
President Kristina M. Johnson joined university leaders in the third virtual town hall Monday to answer questions about the reactivation of campus, the availability of vaccines and ongoing health and safety guidelines. The success of the vaccinations and the low rate of infections on campus were tempered by the increase of infections in Ohio and neighboring states.
“We are encouraged that 40% of the university community has scheduled or had at least one shot. Getting as many Buckeyes as possible vaccinated is a key part of our plan for reactivating an in-person fall semester,” Johnson said. “I urge everyone who’s eligible to sign up for, and receive, a vaccine as soon as possible.”
In December, Ohio was experiencing between 8,000 to 10,000 new COVID-19 infections per day, said Hal Paz, executive vice president and chancellor for health affairs and CEO of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. While those numbers have declined significantly, they are back on the rise.
“While we’re all feeling hopeful about the progress we’re making, we’re not yet at the finish line. COVID-19 cases in Ohio have increased over the past four to six weeks,” he said.
Paz said the well-known health and safety protections of mask wearing, physical distancing and good hygiene remain critical to reducing the infection numbers. Boosting vaccination rates will be key to returning to a more normal campus experience.
Planning for that experience continues. Bruce A. McPheron, executive vice president and provost, said students are in the process of scheduling their fall semester classes, and the number of in-person courses is expected to be much different from fall 2020.
He said at one point about 2% of students had 100% of their classes in-person in the fall of 2020. That number is expected to be flipped with only 2% of students experiencing 100% of their classes online.
Student life on campus is expected to change significantly as well. Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers said her team has heard from students and their parents about the desire for more group dining experiences.
“Just like with programs, events and activities, the pandemic has significantly impacted the community building opportunities that are truly inherent … within the dining experience,” she said. “So as the higher vaccination levels are achieved, we hope to be able to bring back more of our seating and gathering options.
“Believe it or not, the dining experience is actually a tool that student affairs professionals across the country use to initiate and sustain student engagement, which leads to retention and student success.”
Shivers said the university plans for space that is currently reserved for quarantine and isolation to open up. That would make more student gathering places available. COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated students is also expected to be less frequent.
“I’m working hard to provide more opportunities while also making sure that we keep our community safe,” she said. “I have been very focused and supportive of making sure that we have opportunities for students to be engaged, and I also recognize how difficult it has been this entire academic year for groups and organizations to not be able to meet in person.”
The university will post frequently asked questions from the town hall on the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website. The site will also host recordings of each town hall.