UW-River Falls preparing to welcome students back to campus

July 27, 2020 – The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is on the home stretch in its work to provide students with a safe and meaningful college experience in the fall. Across campus, extensive efforts are underway to ensure UWRF can resume activities with confidence and create an experience that is as close to normal as possible given the COVID‐19 pandemic situation. 

“The changes the university are adopting this summer are monumental,” said UWRF Interim Chancellor Connie Foster. “We are designing new ways of working and teaching in an unprecedently short amount of time and in an ever-changing environment. I am grateful for the faculty, instructors and employees who’ve been working tirelessly to prepare for a safe return to campus.”

Responding to the COVID-19 crisis
In January 2020, UWRF senior leadership activated the university’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in response to the coronavirus outbreak and was subsequently charged with three high‐level objectives: 1) monitor the impact of the coronavirus nationally, regionally and locally; 2) prevent the virus from having an impact on UWRF; and 3) develop a communications plan for campus, including talking points for both inward and outward audiences. Now that the imminent threat of the emergency is over, campus is preparing for a new normal. 

“A successful re-opening of campus has involved an unimaginable spectrum of changes from new custodial procedures and protocols to modifications of our classrooms, office spaces and facilities,” said Executive Director of Facilities Management Alan Symicek.

Health and safety, face coverings
Safety measures taken by the university, including its policy specific to the requirement that students and employees wear face coverings, are intended to help reduce the spread of this illness. Additionally, planning for the implementation for specific health measure is underway, including testing of symptomatic individuals and contact tracing. UWRF is discussing options with several providers to provide testing. A UWRF staff member has been assigned to manage contact tracing on campus through a team of six trained employees under the supervision of Pierce County Public Health. 

UWRF is communicating decisions and updates to employees, students and their families as regularly and promptly as possible in regard to health and safety measures as well as numerous decisions being made as part of the Falcons Forward 2020 Return to Campus Plan. The university has hosted town halls to inform students, families and employees and ask questions of leadership during a time that has created much uncertainty. 

Residence halls and dining 
Utilizing guidance from the CDC and county public health professionals, UWRF residence halls will be open, however, occupancy will be modified to decrease density and allow more single rooms, prioritizing those who have a medically related need. Several modifications are being made to mitigate the risks associated with COVID‐19. Extra health and safety measures will be put into place including enhanced sanitation and cleaning. Residence Life programming will be modified to utilize new ways to communicate with students, support their needs, build community, and offer educational and personal growth opportunities.

“We are planning a non-traditional move-in process that will allow us to keep large groups from gathering,” said Karla Thoennes, director of Residence Life. “Students will make appointments and two people will be allowed to assist with helping them move-in. We designed a similar model in March when the students moved out and everyone was quite flexible.”

Residential dining will be available for students however, service will be modified with staff providing more to-go options versus self-serve choices. Physical distancing markers will be used at entrances to ensure compliance with CDC guidelines. Plexiglass partitions will be installed at all service counters.

The majority of classes offered in the fall will be taught in hybrid mode. This is necessary due to the restrictions on how many students can be in a classroom at any given time. Hybrid courses are taught through a combination of face‐to‐face and virtual learning. Faculty training and development for both online and hybrid modes of delivery have been ongoing this summer and will continue into the fall. These will include the use of technology to capture in-class lectures for those learning remotely. Based on COVID-19 considerations, almost all classroom capacities have been reduced to less than 50 percent of normal, with most rooms being in the 15-35 percent range and some being even lower. 

Reflecting on the transformation that’s taken place since March, Provost David Travis said he’s proud of faculty and instructors who’ve demonstrated a clear commitment to ensuring UWRF students are well taken care of when they arrive for classes on September 2.

“Whether in the classroom, residence halls, or through virtual learning, we are committed to continuing to provide the same high‐quality engagement that has served so many generations of University of Wisconsin‐River Falls students,” Travis said. 

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