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Ohio State town hall focuses on reopening, vaccination

University leaders continue to answer pressing questions from students, faculty and staff

More students in classrooms, reduced testing and “something special” for graduates at spring commencement. Those are some of the positive opportunities for The Ohio State University community as conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to improve.

University leaders hosted the second of three scheduled town hall sessions to answer questions about the university’s response to the pandemic. The conversation included information on university planning related to the summer term and fall semester as well as updates on vaccinations and other topics. President Kristina M. Johnson said Ohio State is in a good position due to several factors.

“We do have tail winds. We don’t believe we are seeing, or have evidence of, in-classroom transmission of the virus. We have a third vaccine that just got FDA emergency use authorization. We’ve shown that non-pharmaceutical interventions at scale work. We have less than a half of one percent positivity rate and a low reproductive rate for the virus,” she said.

Johnson was joined at the event by Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron, Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, Interim Senior Vice President for Talent, Culture and Human Resources and Senior Adviser to the President Paul Patton, and other university leaders. Teresa Long, special adviser of community engagement and partnership in the College of Public Health, moderated the discussion.

Last week, Johnson announced planning is underway for a reactivation of Ohio State’s campuses this fall to offer safe and robust in-person experiences significantly expanded from current restrictions. That includes more in-person teaching, learning and activities; expanded in-person campus services and events, as well as fans in attendance at Ohio State football games and other athletic competitions. 

“It is important to remember that as our state's flagship and land-grant university, the in-person experience really is fundamental and core to who we are as an institution,” Shivers said.

Ongoing vaccination efforts are expected to impact the health and safety protocols at the university. Amy Fairchild, dean of the College of Public Health, said she is optimistic.

“Right now, I’m feeling hopeful that we can do things like reduce the cadence of testing for individuals who are vaccinated, and begin to do different kinds of testing, like wastewater testing,” she said. “And I am hopeful we can reduce the distancing, too. So I think that fall of 2021…may not look exactly like fall of 2019, but all signs are pointing to it not looking like fall of 2020, either.”

Planning is also underway for spring commencement. Since the pandemic struck last year, Ohio State has hosted virtual commencement events with a commitment to honor graduates with an in-person experience when it becomes safe and healthy to do so.

“We’ve appointed a task force that’s looking into how we would craft a really personal and connected commencement this spring. We're working through that right now,” Johnson said.

Patton said university leaders are also examining a return to campus for university employees who have been working from home during the pandemic. He said any increase in personnel on campus would be gradual and phased in.

“When we begin to transition, managers will be encouraged to work with employees who need time to make new arrangements for child care, or other needs they have been managing, while working remotely over the past year,” he said.

A third town hall will be held on April 12. The university will continue gathering and answering questions on the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website. The site will also host recordings of each town hall.

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