• Sydnie Balcer

COVID-19 update: SWOSU's phase plan & Spring Break

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

SWOSU Vice President James South gives information on the status of COVID-19 at SWOSU: What plans are in place, what precautions are being taken, and what we know about spring break for 2021.

By Sydnie Balcer

News Reporter

What is SWOSU’s current plan for rises in positive COVID-19 cases?

The SWOSU administration is working on a contingency plan that addresses how the university would handle COVID-19 cases on three different levels. According to SWOSU Vice President James South, the administration is in the second round of the draft for the plan, and they have been consulting the staff council, faculty senate, and student government association.

“I think we’ve kind of reached a consensus,” South said.

The first level of the contingency plan is for when 2.5% (around 125 students) or less of the SWOSU student body is infected with the virus. This is the phase SWOSU is in currently with 67 active COVID-19 cases, which is a drastic decrease from the previous week, with 134 active COVID-19 cases. This phase primarily focuses on punishing students who violate social distancing and mask policies, as well as educating students through social media on why the precautions work. Most student activities have gone virtual, and students are to avoid large gatherings of people.

The second level of the contingency plan is for when 5% (250) of the SWOSU student body is infected with the virus. Most classes would go virtual, and the labs on campus would stay open. Some offices on campus might only be open if students schedule an appointment beforehand.

The third level of the contingency plan is for when 7.5% (375) or more of the SWOSU student body is infected with the virus. The university would consult healthcare officials on the state and national level on whether or not to close campus entirely. Labs would go online in addition to the lectures, and things would work similarly to how they did after spring break in the 2020 spring semester. Some dorms might not remain open and food services would be takeout only. The plan is to avoid this level at all costs, but South assumes students who would return home for the remainder of the semester could expect to receive refunds, similarly to how they did in the spring 2020 semester.

According to South, this is meant to be a general guide for the administration, and it is not set in stone, which allows the university to have flexibility with how they handle the different levels. SWOSU will also be taking what other Oklahoma universities are doing into consideration.

What are the updated safety precautions SWOSU has taken?

SWOSU has updated its safety precautions for COVID-19 as the fall 2020 semester has progressed. One of the new precautions being taken is monitoring the wastewater from the SWOSU campus. The university takes samples from the wastewater and sends them off for analysis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Wastewater can be tested for RNA from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.” Testing the wastewater allows the university to monitor changes of COVID-19 in the SWOSU community, which can help account for students who do not get tested for COVID-19 or students who do not report that they have contracted it. Wastewater testing, however, is “not meant to replace COVID-19 surveillance systems, but is meant to complement them.” According to South, testing the wastewater on-campus currently costs SWOSU about $2000 per week.

Student activities have gone virtual, and the university is having some classes go completely virtual for a period of time if there is a high number of positive cases within a single class.

“A plus is that we don’t know of a case that was contracted through a hallway or a class,” South said. “We think cases have come from off-campus events, and we’re very impressed with the way students have adapted.”

What are other Oklahoma universities doing for spring 2021?

On September 24, 2020, the University of Central Oklahoma was the first Oklahoma university to announce that they would not have a spring break for the 2021 spring semester. Since then, OSU and OU have also announced that they would not have spring break. All three colleges extended winter break by one week and end at the same time originally scheduled. The goal for the colleges is to finish out the spring semester with in-person classes.

Will SWOSU have spring break?

The SWOSU administration has been discussing the possibility of canceling spring break for the 2021 spring semester, and the recent announcements from other Oklahoma universities makes it more likely that SWOSU will follow suit.

“We are looking at what other universities are doing,” South said. “It does make a long stretch for a semester, but I can’t think of a way to do it that doesn’t put us at risk.”

According to South, the way SWOSU might differ from other universities in the canceling of spring break is that classes will start at the same time, and students will finish the semester a week earlier. The original schedule for the spring semester has classes beginning on Jan. 11, 2021 and classes ending on May 7, 2021. If spring break is canceled and SWOSU starts at the originally scheduled time, students would finish the semester on April 30, 2021.

This has not been officially decided on, but South said students can expect to hear an announcement about it soon.

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