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UW plans to have students back on campus, in dorms this fall

The University of Washington closed in March as a precautionary reaction to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak for the remainder of the winter quarter. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The University of Washington will have students back on campus this fall — in dorms, dining halls, and some classrooms.

The university said in a town hall Friday that it plans to implement a “hybrid model,” comprised of partly in-person and partly virtual classes. With this model, 2,000 of the fall quarter’s 7,000 classes — about 30 percent — would take place on-site.

The UW’s Vice Provost Phillip Reid said the in-person classes will be more hands-on types of classes, such as labs. Lectures will be taught online.

“Safety has been first and foremost in all of our planning for the fall, and that extends to our classroom and our instructional program,” Reid said. “Classrooms are going to look different than they have in the past.”

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Examples of those differences include reduced class sizes to allow for social distancing, the addition of an hour in between classes to avoid having crowds of people move through the door at the same time, and alternate exits and entrances.

But UW President Ana Mari Cauce said just as important as the physical changes will be the safety attitude they want everyone to adopt. She wants students to remember that just because they are young does not mean they don’t need to worry — they are all in the fight together, and should have everyone else’s safety prioritized.

“One of the things that we will now continue to work on is to create a culture that puts health and community first and foremost in the minds of all our students,” Cauce said.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks, as per state law; the university can provide some masks, but encourages students to bring their own.

On-campus housing

Students will be allowed to live on campus in the dorms, though some residences will have reduced capacity.

“Most of our housing includes double rooms with private baths,” said Vice President for Student Life Denzil Suite. “And in areas with more shared restrooms, we are de-densifying those facilities, and placing one student per room with enhanced cleanings of bathrooms and public spaces.”

Still, Suite said there should be enough room for every student who wishes to live on campus, including local students.

The university already has experience housing students in the time of coronavirus — 2,000 students have remained on campus since March when the university closed in-person classes. In that time, Cauce said “less than 1 percent” of the students in dorms have come down with the virus.

There is a plan in place to treat dorm residents who catch COVID-19.

“For our on-campus residents, we will have several designated isolation spaces for confirmed cases,” Suite said.

Roommates and close contacts of the infected students will be able to quarantine in their rooms for the most part, as the majority of dorm rooms have private baths. Food and any other supplies will be delivered to those students.

People living off-campus are encouraged to develop their own safety plan.

Students who have changed their minds about living on-campus can cancel their housing applications and receive a full refund — but they must do so by this Sunday. They can still apply for housing winter quarter.

Dining halls will still accommodate students, but food will largely be pre-packaged, and soup and salad buffets will be eliminated altogether.

Fitness facilities will also be open, and student clubs will be allowed to run.

International students

Although a new policy from the Trump administration would force international students to transfer schools or go home if their universities do not restart in-person classes, Cauce is adamant that no international students will be forced to leave the UW for this reason.

“Being able to give all our students a really global learning experience is absolutely positive for all of us, so I want to be very, very clear about just how awful this is,” she said.

Cauce said the cultural exchange created by having students from other countries on campus “brings a richness” to the university, and called the President’s policy “incredibly callous.”

“To all international students, we stand with you, and we will be fighting for you,” she added.

Any UW students who planned to study abroad will largely be out of luck, as travel bans, restrictions by other countries, and national travel recommendations are stopping people from flying internationally.

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