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University admin answer phase two questions during virtual town hall

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Ohio University administrators addressed questions regarding phase two of Ohio U’s phased return to campus at a virtual student town hall Thursday.

Phase two is scheduled to start Sept. 28, with students moving into residence halls beginning next week.

Ken Johnson, the chief medical affairs officer, spoke on the measures the university is taking to ensure health and safety on campus.

Johnson highlighted the resources available through the Ohio U COVID-19 hotline. The hotline provides individualized recommendations and assistance in getting a COVID-19 test, he said.

Phase two students living in on-campus housing and off-campus students engaging in certain campus activities will be required to participate in an asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program that is being coordinated by the university in conjunction with CVS, according to Johnson. 

Gillian Ice, Ohio U’s special assistant to the president for public health operations, said she believes there is a possibility Athens County could soon be upgraded to “red” status on the Ohio Health Advisory System.

The Ohio Health Advisory System is a dashboard that uses multiple metrics to assess community spread throughout the state. Each week the Ohio Department of Health assigns every county one of four colors, from yellow signifying the lowest level of community spread, to purple, which indicates severe spread.

Athens County is currently at “orange” status, recently upgraded from “yellow” status, but down from its several weeks of “red” status in July.

However, there is no single trigger that would cause the university to change its plans for fall semester, Ice said. Officials will be looking at guideline compliance, availability of personal protective equipment and case numbers when evaluating how to proceed. 

She also provided updated COVID-19 case numbers. As of Sept. 17, there have been 106 positive student tests with 105 in Athens and one at the Southern campus, located in Ironton. Of the 106 cases, there have been no hospitalizations or deaths.

Since late-August the number of COVID-19 cases in Athens County has been steadily rising, especially in the 20-29 year old range. However, it is unknown how many of the confirmed cases can be linked back to university students.

Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina encouraged phase two students to “pack lightly” for their eight week stay on campus, because they will be required to move-out of their assigned room by Nov. 21.

Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs also confirmed the university approved a satisfactory and no credit grading option. A similar option was given to students during the spring 2020 semester.

Information regarding what classes are not eligible for the alternative grading will be available within the next few weeks, Sayrs said. 

Ohio U President Duane Nellis said the decision to return to campus in the spring will be made based on how the current phased reopening works. The university does not have a plan to make an announcement about spring semester in the immediate future, Nellis said. 

When asked about the possibility that students could be released from the sophomore on-campus housing requirement for spring semester, Pina said it is currently too early to know. He noted, however, it could cause a reduction in the number of people living on-campus but not the number of individuals in Athens.

Nellis said the university is continuing to offer quality education in a primarily remote format and will not offer discounted tuition for the fall semester. Additionally, there will be no refund or reduction of fees for other non-tuition activities and services, regardless of how they have been delivered this semester.

Students, staff and parents wanting more information on the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic can go to ohio.edu/coronavirus. Also on the website is a new COVID-19 dashboard that tracks cases numbers on all Ohio U campuses.

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