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Michigan State plans in-person class, ‘more typical’ fall as COVID ebbs

Michigan State University
If the vaccine rollout continues as hoped, the vast majority of Michigan State University’s classrooms will have students in them in September, for the first time since March 2020 when the COVID pandemic struck. (Bridge file photo)

Students will return to Michigan State University classrooms and fans to Spartan Stadium in a ‘more typical’ fall semester this September, according to an announcement Friday by MSU President Samuel Stanley.

The plan is subject to change, but Stanley struck an optimistic tone that, with vaccines now being administered more broadly, the worst of the pandemic will be behind Michigan by September.

“I am excited at the prospect of coming back together again, and I am greatly looking forward to seeing our vibrant community of students, faculty and staff fully engaged in on-campus life,” Stanley wrote in a letter to students and staff.

Under the plan, 75 percent of classes would be in-person during the fall semester. Large lecture classes would remain remote.

Residence halls will be open for incoming freshmen and “as many other students as possible while still providing a safe living space,” Stanley wrote. The announcement didn’t say whether dorms, which typically house about 15,000 students, would return to full capacity.

Fans will be allowed at athletic events, but how many isn’t spelled out, with Stanley writing that MSU will be “following state requirements and guidelines that will be in place at that time regarding attendance.”

The Wharton Center, MSU’s large event venue, and the Broad Art Museum are planning public events for the fall.

The letter cautions students and staff that plans could change before the fall.

That’s similar to what officials at MSU and many other Michigan colleges and universities said last spring about the fall 2020 semester. MSU, the University of Michigan and most other universities announced their intention to reopen campuses and classrooms last fall amid the pandemic, but scrambled to change plans just weeks before students were set to move into dorms as COVID-19 cases rose once more across the state.

At MSU, classes were held in the fall 2020 semester, but the vast majority were fully online. MSU encouraged students to stay home rather than move to East Lansing.

MSU was the site of large outbreaks in September, which Ingham County Health Department and university officials blamed primarily on off-campus parties.

After closing dorms for the fall, MSU reopened residence halls for about 2,500 students this semester, after the December holiday break. A few weeks later, rising COVID cases in dorms led the university to ask all students to stay in their dorms or apartments for two weeks.

“I want to remind you that the university will continue to make important decisions about the fall based on all current science and data about the pandemic and in coordination with our partners at the state and local level,” Stanley wrote. “As we have learned from the outset of this pandemic, we must stand ready to adjust to protect our campus and our greater community. We will constantly be reviewing our plans for the fall and keeping you informed along the way.”

What makes a return to what Stanley calls a “more typical” semester possible are the mass vaccinations now taking place across Michigan and the U.S.

Currently, 2.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Michigan residents, with about 880,000 already having both doses of the two-shot regimen, and another 1.6 million who have had one dose and are awaiting their second.

About 600,000 additional doses are on their way to Michigan.

“The number of students, faculty and staff who have received the vaccine is another critical factor in our ability to return to a more normal fall semester,” Stanley wrote. “I encourage each of you to get the vaccine when it is available to you.”

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