Penn State is still aiming to bring students back to its campuses in the fall, and is coming up with plans for how to do that safely. That was one of the topics during a virtual town hall university leaders held Tuesday.
Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims is leading a task force focused on the return to campus and community.
He said they’re considering everything including changing the academic calendar; a blend of remote and in-person classes; and safety protocols to try to minimize risks to students and faculty.
“From my perspective, the greater challenge is going to be found outside the classroom where we have less ability to control things," Sims said.
He said students’ typical extracurricular social lives are going to lead to challenges to minimize the risks COVID-19 poses. He said those could include interactions at fraternities, off campus housing, dining facilities, on buses, in student organizations, and at coffee shops and lounges.
He noted two-thirds of students live off-campus at University Park.
Sims’ task force is working with the public health and science group to look at issues including testing, contact tracing, quarantining, masks, strategies for social distancing and compliance.
The university has said it will announce plans for the fall by June 15.
Penn State President Eric Barron reiterated the objective is to return to campuses in the fall, but said the decision is not final and the university is continuing to gather information.
“If there’s serious concerns, then we may have to rethink the plans," Barron said. "We’re operating as if we will, but we’ll have these checkpoints to make sure we can do it safely.”
Barron said the university is not considering a change in tuition for the fall, even if classes are a mix of online and in-person.
The university is also looking at a phased approach for returning employees to in-person work, Lorraine Goffe, vice president for human resources, said.
“The key is to gradually bring the workforce back, some percentage, maybe 20% of the workforce, work with unit leaders, because they’re the best to know how many people need to return and do their work on site," Goffe said. "And then have time to assess and see how things are going. And then, if we need to adjust, we’ll certainly adjust, and then transition another group in.”
Factors will include who needs to return to campus and who has concerns about returning. Goffe said there’s no definitive timeline for that yet, but more information will be coming from the university in the next few weeks.