MSU Will Bring Students Back in September

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

There will be almost no people in Spartan Stadium, which seats 70,000-plus people, for games this season.

Just after 3 p.m. today, Michigan State University President Sam Stanley announced that the university will allow for in-person instruction in the fall.

The reopening of MSU has major implications for East Lansing in terms of the economy, public health, business survival, housing, neighborhood cultures, policing, and more.

Stanley opened his announcement by stating that the decision had been informed by “guidance from health care professionals, feedback from faculty, staff and students as well as MSU leadership and recommendations from the university’s COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force.”

So, what will the Fall 2020 semester look like?

Classes will begin as previously scheduled on Wednesday, September 2, and all in-person meetings will be suspended on Wednesday, November 25. The remaining three weeks of the semester—including final exams—will be held remotely.

The suspension of in-person classes falls the day before Thanksgiving. Students can return to their permanent addresses and remain there after the holiday, or they can remain on campus through the end of the semester. The idea is to stop any back-and-forth travel around Thanksgiving that could lead to spreading disease.

Himself a physician specializing in infectious disease, Stanley stated that the plan was “designed to address epidemiologic models that suggest a potential resurgence in COVID-19 cases in December.” Students can “return to their permanent residences before peak influenza season if they choose.”

MSU had planned to implement a new fall break in October this year but that concept has now been postponed.

Students should not expect the status quo upon their return in the fall. Some in-person classes will resume, but MSU plans to increase hybrid options. Some online and remote options will continue as well.

Stanley provided few details of what campus life would look like, beyond stating, “[p]hysical distancing and the wearing of face masks on campus” should be expected.

He also said the size of gatherings would be limited.

Stanley acknowledged that not all Spartans would be able to attend classes in-person, noting health concerns and visa issues, particularly for incoming international students. Remote classes will be made available to help these students work toward their degrees.

What influenced the decision?

To deal with the question of how to bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus, Stanley created the COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force, led by Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Norman Beauchamp Jr. and University Physician David Weismantel.

The task force established guiding principles for reopening, and it had solicited feedback from faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, parents, alumni, and donors to the university.

The task force declared that “COVID-19 likely will be a reality in the local and regional community for some time, and MSU’s goal should be to protect those most at risk and to minimize the risk of transmission as much as reasonably possible while allowing some normal activities to be conducted.”

It also called for establishing cleaning standards for all departments to follow and for “consider[ing] contact tracing while being mindful of privacy.”

The task force will now develop subcommittees and make specific plans for how to safely reopen campus, considering the possibility of new waves of infection and student mobility increasing the likelihood of infection.

Stanley stated in his announcement that the university had already “increased cleaning standards, establishing a strong supply chain for appropriate amounts of personal protection equipment and partnering with local health care facilities in preparation for an outbreak.”

He assured the MSU community that planning has long been underway to implement “approaches to contact tracing and testing, managing our residence halls, and allocating and scheduling our class spaces.”

Stanley noted that, in the meantime, Spartans should continue to plan to work from home for the foreseeable future, possibly longer than stay-at-home orders demand.

He stated, “A critical component to any decision we make now and in the future will be the status of the pandemic in our region, our state and the nation.”

Disclosure: ELi’s Managing Editor Alice Dreger is married to Aron Sousa, the Interim Dean of MSU’s College of Human Medicine.

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