Eastern Michigan University is developing new strategies for the Fall 2020 semester in an effort to ease social distancing concerns due to COVID-19.
EMU hopes to resume on-campus operations, including in-person classes, housing and dining when the fall semester begins on Aug. 31. However, EMU will implant many new facility sanitation regulations as well as social distancing protocol.
“We are modeling and preparing for several possible operating scenarios in order to be prepared, and safe,” said President James Smith. “Our #EMUSafe planning is guided by a singular focus: Ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors.”
“This planning process should be expeditious but cannot be rushed; our goal is to make the best decisions, not necessarily the fastest decisions. I therefore ask that our campus community remain patient,” said Smith in a campus-wide email update on May 21.
Since then, he has been working closely with existing campus committees including the Faculty Senate and its standing committees, the Academic Affairs Educational Environment & Facilities Committee (EEFC), and University Budget Council (UBC) to propose the next steps forward.
The Public Health Work Group, composed of nurses, cleanliness protocol experts, an epidemiologist, and occupational therapist are among several groups developing specific social distancing strategies in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, including:
Adding more online and hybrid classes
Using larger classrooms to increase space between students
Requiring a 6-foot distance and strict hygiene practices of students, faculty, and staff
Reducing the number of visitors of campus at any given day
Massive disinfection procedures at frequently visited campus locations
Providing face masks for use around campus
“I think [‘The Single Room Guarantee’ is] great. The single room housing helps immunocompromised students still have the college experience, without risking their safety. They can control who is in and out of their room, which will limit the exposure to possible germs and future sickness,” said Emma Abad, EMU junior, said.
In March, EMU was among many public universities in the nation to convert to an entirely online classroom format due to COVID-19, forcing millions of students to adjust to an entirely fresh format of classroom instruction.
“For people with changing job schedules and busy lives, it can be really beneficial to do their work when they have the time. However, I really didn’t enjoy most aspects of online classes,” Abad said. “I would prefer to have some sort of hybrid class. I think it is necessary to keep the students and faculty safe, which means simply limiting exposure with one another."
According to John Sonnega, assistant professor in public health education and director of the undergraduate public health major, officials have been working 24/7 to reshape general public recommendations to a college campus environment.
“Faculty will be offering a lot of remote classes, hybrid classes, and they’re organizing the schedule deliberately on campus...We’ll do classes in shifts...We’ll use larger classrooms, routes will be planned, hallways will be one direction,” Sonnega told the Echo.
“While the number of cases and deaths in Michigan continues to decline, the disease is still very much present and we all need to observe physical distancing, hand-washing hygiene, and the wearing of masks when in enclosed public places or when in close proximity (within six feet) of others. These practices will not end anytime soon, so I encourage you to remain vigilant in taking appropriate and necessary precautions,” said Smith in an email from the Office of the President on June 8.
Campus officials are asking students to prepare to practice healthy hygiene habits once they return to campus this fall. Though it may be unaccustomed to a typical campus setting, the safety of all those who visit EMU remains the top priority.
“We have stated that this fall semester will represent a ‘new normal’ on our campus,” said President James Smith in a statement.