In an email to University of Idaho faculty last week, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Torrey Lawrence outlined a clearer picture of how classes will be conducted in the fall.

In the email, Lawrence said measures will be taken to help limit the local spread of COVID-19 when students return, including capping classroom occupancy at 50 percent of capacity and requiring all visitors to campus, including students staff and faculty, to wear face coverings. UI Communication Director Jodi Walker said all students, staff and faculty would be supplied with a reusable cloth face mask, and faculty can request a plastic face shield.

Walker said the specifics are still being ironed out, but the UI plans to test students for coronavirus as they arrive in Moscow, with the help of Gritman Medical Center.

In the letter, Lawrence also said nearly 150 classrooms will be upgraded with video and audio equipment to allow instruction to be delivered remotely via Zoom. This will increase the UI’s inventory of Zoom-capable rooms from 73 to 220.

Walker said classes will be delivered one of three ways — either solely in person or online, which is the last resort, or a combination of the two, known as a “hy-flex” model.

“There will be the live in-class portion of it and then it will also be, in real time, provided electronically in some format,” Walker said. “It may be that I go to class on Monday and you are online and then on Wednesday, we swap — it just enables us to teach just as many students but only have half of them in the class at any given time.”

Walker said this model will allow a student to stay home if they’re feeling ill, while still having access to the class.

In June, university officials outlined plans to limit capacity and practice social distancing in campus dining locations and to limit dormitories in the Theophilus Tower residence hall to a single resident. Other dormitories, including the Wallace complex, will be populated as normal.

In Lawrence’s email update, he also notes the UI is considering moving classes completely online after Thanksgiving break.

“There are a lot of universities across the country who are choosing this option,” Walker said. “Rather than have students travel and then travel back, and then three weeks later, travel again, just finishing the semester online — that’s still being evaluated, we should have a decision on that pretty soon.”

Whether or not the school will have to shift these plans as the crisis evolves remains uncertain. Walker said there is no one criteria that would prompt the university to move all classes online or send students home for the semester but the UI is working with public health officials, state entities and local hospitals. She said the school has isolation space ready so that if a student does test positive for COVID-19, they can quarantine relatively quickly. However, even with these contingencies in place, Walker warned “we can’t stop COVID but we can slow it down.”

“The biggest goal is to just be able to deliver for what our students expect and deserve in the safest way possible for our students, for our staff and faculty (and) for our community,” Walker said.

Scott Jackson can be reached by email at sjackson@dnews.com.

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