By Kayla Baggerly
Fall semester 2020 is going to look different for Wolverines.
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a world pandemic on March 11, many universities went online, social distancing was put into place and masks are recommended to help keep each other healthy. COVID-19 will still be around this fall and the university has plans to minimize the health risks of school, especially for those at high risk.
Robin Ebemeyer, UVU’s director of emergency management and safety, said the plans are ongoing — and subject to change.
“We want the students here. We want them to continue their education,” Ebemeyer said. “No one’s being complacent here. Not the administrators, not the professors, not the staff. Everyone’s trying to figure this out. There is concern and we’re still trying to figure out how to do all these pieces, and you have to be ready to change on a dime.”
The classroom experience
Classrooms will have chairs and tables taped off to ensure that students distance in their desks. Many classes have moved online and teachers will be required to accommodate their students with livestreaming options. If a student is sick or feels unsafe coming to campus because they might be high risk or living with someone who is high risk, they will be able to livestream the class from the safety of their home.
Ebemeyer explained how some teachers will be splitting their classes into groups to minimize classroom size. For example, one group of students will come on Mondays and livestream Wednesdays, and the other group will do the opposite. For classes with labs where students need to be present, students will be screened before going to class. According to Ebemyer, this method was tried out in the summer semester and is working well.
“Honestly, I think we’re going to have more opportunity than we ever had before for learning and classwork so it’s kind of exciting in that way,” Ebemeyer said. “It addresses everyone, but it definitely addresses those that would fall into the high risk population.”
On June 25, the university announced that masks will be required on campus per Governor Gary Herbert’s executive order that states masks are to be worn in state facilities on June 25.
However, some responsible for cleaning the school say there isn’t enough being done. According to a member of the custodial department, who asked to remain anonymous, no new janitorial procedures have been put into place to combat COVID-19.
“If it weren’t a virus…. the procedures would be fine,” they said. “I don’t know enough about it to tell you that what we’re doing would make anyone that’s high risk any safer than if they stayed home.”
The source says they don’t say this to discourage people from continuing their education, but for them to encourage administrators to put classes online.
“We work hard to make sure all the surfaces are covered, but it’s impossible to verify. A lot of areas only have one person [cleaning them]. Even if they cover all of their area, there is no guarantee it will be clean. Even when the school is ‘closed,’ people come in, including people without masks,” they said.
Ebemeyer recommends students do what they can to stay safe and healthy. She said it’s important to wash your hands frequently, refrain from touching your face and stay off campus if you feel sick. Although the school will provide masks and disinfecting wipes to keep campus clean, she says it is important for individuals to take care of themselves.
She also discussed how it’s critical to take care of student’s mental and emotional health, as there will be heightened stress during this time.
“Sometimes it comes down to having a conversation with a human being …and saying how do you feel? What’s going on in your mind? What’s your situation? And then listen to them talk about it and maybe just talking about it helps,” she said.
Ammon Cheney, a mental health therapist at UVU, outlined the action plan that mental health services have created to provide resources for students, while maintaining safety.
All the usual mental health services, including group therapy, individual therapy and couples therapy, are all operating through teletherapy. Crisis services will be available on campus to help students who need it and social distancing will be maintained.
On the UVU mental health services website and their instagram, students can find presentations on topics like stress management, anxiety, depression, mindfulness and human sexuality to refer to anytime they need.
Cheney wants to remind students that mental health services are there to help students through this unusual time.
“Welcome back, we’re glad you’re here,” he said. “Certainly, everyone I work with on campus is eager to be with the students and we miss the students and we want more than anything for the students to succeed. That’s the same in the student health services and across the board to student affairs. We’re all cheering the students on. We’re here for you.”