Washington State University is finalizing strategies for how to handle the fall semester in the midst of a pandemic, among them are plans to limit occupancy in student housing and to move instruction completely online after Thanksgiving.

WSU Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales said colleges across the country are adopting similar rules limiting the number of people living in university owned residence halls in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We will be having reduced occupancy in our halls — about 2,000 to 3,000 students less than we would normally have in our residential facilities,” Gonzales said. “We are still finalizing those numbers and we will be sharing that with students next week.”

While they do not fall under WSU’s purview, Gonzales said local health authorities are expected to issue guidelines for how sororities and fraternities populate their residential facilities as well.

WSU will also dispense Cougar-branded “brandanas” — also called “buffs” — which are semi-elastic, tube-shaped bandanas that can sit around the neck and be drawn up to cover the face and nose. All new students and those living in university-owned residences will receive a brandana, she said.

Gonzalez said all dining facilities will be open in the fall including convenience stores, markets and food pantries. Employees will follow social distancing guidelines and any seating will be appropriately spaced, she said. She said grab-and-go options will continue to be available for those who wish to minimize the amount of time they spend in public.

Part of the reason WSU will open all of its dining facilities, Gonzales said, is to give people more options and opportunity to maintain appropriate distance so that a single location isn’t overrun with crowds because it’s the only place open.

“We are trying to create that space where we spread out the volume of students that are coming at one time,” she said. “Then secondly, offer food options for those who don’t want to necessarily go eat in a residence hall but want to grab some food and head back up to their room.”

When students return in the fall, Gonzales said they will be greeted with a somewhat different classroom arrangement. She said university employees did an inventory of every classroom in order to determine which would be available to students when classes resume.

She said most classes of more than 50 students will likely be offered remotely with few exceptions. She said some classes will follow a “hy-flex” model which offers both in-person and remote options for instruction. She said finalized plans are expected to be released Aug. 1.

Additionally, Gonzales said all WSU classes will move to online instruction at the conclusion of Thanksgiving break. She said this is to minimize the chances of a student bringing the virus back to Pullman after traveling for the holidays.

“Everything that we are doing is to create a COVID-resistant campus — that is everything from following the rules around masks, around physical distancing, around washing your hands and we’ll provide all of that there,” she said. “The resistance has to be until we have a vaccine — so we will not be satisfied and we are working very hard to make sure that COVID doesn’t come into our community and impact our community.”

For up-to-date information on WSU strategies and updates related to COVID-19, visit wsu.edu/covid-19/.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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