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First Michigan college unveils fall plan: masks, tests, some campus classes

Oakland University
There are now more than 50 community colleges and four-year colleges and universities that offer tuition-free programs for some group of students. (Bridge file photo)

Update: What we know about Michigan college plans in fall amid coronavirus

Face masks, a massive coronavirus testing program and conversion of ballrooms into social-distance-safe classrooms are among the changes planned for fall at Oakland University, as the public university scrambles to adjust to campus life during a pandemic.

Oakland on Friday became the first Michigan public university to announce its plans for the fall semester, unveiling a strategy that tries to balance safety and learning that could foretell plans at other state campuses.

In a letter to students, staff and faculty by Oakland President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said Oakland will take “a hybrid approach that includes both face-to-face and remote instruction.”

Other public universities are studying options for the fall. At a virtual town hall meeting Thursday, Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson and Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley hinted that the fall semester would continue with remote learning, similar to what has taken place since mid-March when campuses around the nation shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In the same town hall meeting, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said he still hoped to bring students back to Ann Arbor in September.

Related: Lansing Community College goes mostly online for fall amid coronavirus
Related: Northern Michigan University: Campus open in fall despite coronavirus fears

None has gone as far as Pescovitz did Friday, laying out in detail what the fall semester will look like for the 20,000-student campus in Auburn Hills.

“That’s what we’re planning to do,” Pescovitz said, “assuming we don’t have an executive order that restricts our plans.”

In an interview with Bridge, Pescovitz offered the most detailed version yet of what college life could look like in the age of coronavirus. Oakland’s plan includes:

  • In-person laboratory classes, but limited to a small number of students. “We might have three students in a large lab where social distancing is possible, and where they can wear masks and can be tested before they come in,” Pescovitz said.

  • Some classes moved to larger venues on campus – the university president offered an example of a class of 50 in a room that seats 250 so students can maintain safe social distance.

  • Ballrooms in the Oakland Center student union may be converted to classrooms, because they are large enough for safe social-distancing.

  • Because there are a limited number of large venues on campus, many classes will be held online.

  • Sports teams will play, but players will be tested for coronavirus frequently.

  • No spectators at sporting events.

  • Face masks will be required on campus.

  • Dorms will be open, but only 20 percent of Oakland’s students live on campus, so most can retain social distance in their homes.

  • Frequent testing of students, staff and faculty. “I hope Michigan will have the ability to do more COVID cases than we can today,” Pescovitz said. “We hope to be able to do testing on campus, along with serology and contact-tracing. That allows us to be as safe as possible. If frequent coronavirus testing is not possible, the university could take the temperature of students frequently.

Pescovitz cautioned that her school’s plans could change, depending on the status of the pandemic in Michigan and statewide executive orders. But she said university officials are moving forward with logistics for a hybrid education plan for the fall semester.

“This is absolutely a work in progress,” Pescovitz said. “A Herculean effort lies in front of us. But we can assure the public, students and parents we will absolutely have a great year in front of us.”

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