Returning to Campus

Executive Summary & Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide details on the University of South Florida’s (USF) response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This document outlines the methodology behind USF’s reopening plans, introduces the nine (9) Recovery Support Functions (RSF) utilized throughout the planning and implementation process, and describes the four (4) phases of reopening the university. Also included are highlights of plans that departments across the university will put in place during each reopening phase. It should be noted that the plans mentioned in this document are subject to change based on epidemiologic data trends and further guidance from the university’s Executive Policy Group (EPG) and external sources, such as the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A contingency plan is outlined to allow the university to consider reverting back to previous phases should conditions warrant. Also listed are a number of assumptions to bear in mind as the university works to safely welcome students, faculty, and staff back onto campus for the Fall 2020 semester. The plan aligns with the Florida State University System Blueprint for Reopening Campuses (May 28, 2020).

A Healthy Campus Environment begins with a shared commitment to the health and safety of all university constituents across all three of our campuses. The university will implement mitigation measures and make changes to campus operations to promote healthy practices, and will remind all USF community members that health and wellness is a shared responsibility. All persons on campus will be subject to new policies, procedures and oversight designed to promote a safer and healthier environment for teaching, learning and working, including strategies to protect individuals at higher risk for developing adverse outcomes of COVID-19. These changes align with the university’s commitment to community.

Mitigation measures include physical barriers, reconfigured spaces and continued telework for those who are able to work productively remotely. Individual and community behavior consistent with public health guidelines will be required including wearing face coverings in shared spaces, maintaining physical distancing and staying home when symptomatic or infected. Hand hygiene, cough etiquette and frequent disinfecting will be encouraged and supported through the provision of sanitizing supplies. All of this will be communicated through a marketing campaign as well as education and training modules; consequences for non-compliance will be clearly communicated. USF will continually review health data trends and monitor the campus atmosphere to best determine when and how various activities can resume or must be curtailed. 

A Healthy Community Environment builds on strong relationships that already exist between the University of South Florida and the counties in the Tampa Bay region. As our employees and the majority of our students commute into and out of our three campuses each day from a six-county area, our efforts to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 must necessarily be coordinated with those of these surrounding counties. We work closely with county governments, Departments of Emergency Management and county offices of the Florida Department of Health in our region. We have provided epidemiologic data analysis and contact tracing support; staffed testing sites; supported specific efforts to control the virus in long term care facilities; manufactured and donated PPE supplies; and, educated policy makers and the general public on COVID-19. The responsibility to control the spread of COVID-19 is one we share with our surrounding counties; their success is ours and vice versa. Visitors to our campuses will be asked to follow our mitigation measures and members of our USF community will be asked to serve as role models in consistently practicing disease mitigation on and off campus. We further intend to expand flu vaccination availability across our campuses and to support COVID-19 testing sites on or near our campuses.

Virus Testing, Tracing and Surveillance are important elements of the USF plan. Depending on epidemiologic data available in the next month, we plan to require students, faculty and staff returning to campus from outside the state to be tested and clear of disease if positive, prior to returning. Baseline and periodic symptom surveys of all faculty, staff and students will provide important information on COVID-19 history and exposure and trends in COVID-19-like Illness.  Environmental sampling of frequently touched surfaces will also indicate possible viral activity on our campuses. These two data sources will signal any need to do cluster testing in specific populations or specific spaces in order to identify positive cases and isolate them and anyone with high exposure risk. Isolation beds have been set aside on the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses for this purpose and medical, mental health and academic/student support care teams will monitor all students in isolation to meet their needs during that period. In concert with the Florida Department of Health and our county governments, we intend to make voluntary testing in our communities convenient and to test randomly selected samples of our population on a bi-weekly basis. This surveillance system (symptom checking, environmental sampling and testing) will provide data needed to determine if our mitigation approaches are working or if we need to reconsider these reopening plans.  

Academic Program Delivery in the context of the overwhelming imperative to promote the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, and visitors has created challenges and opportunities as we have utilized all available learning modalities to deliver high quality instruction to our students. A flexible hybrid approach has guided our plans for the fall semester wherein large lecture-based classes will be offered fully on-line, while others that include content better delivered in a face-to-face (F2F) format have been organized into spaces that can accommodate expected enrollments within social distancing guidelines, split into multiple sections, or offered in a synchronous (real-time) format. All spaces that can be used for F2F instruction have been mapped for maximum occupancy maintaining social distancing.  All persons in the shared classroom space will be required to maintain distancing, wear face coverings, and adhere to disinfecting protocols. Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the possibility of severe weather during the fall, all instructors must be adaptable, flexible and prepared to transition to quality online delivery at any point during the semester. No student will be required to register for F2F classes and those in “high risk” groups are provided access to coursework through a range of alternative delivery platforms and accommodations as appropriate and consistent with ADA and university guidelines.  Faculty members in a “high risk” category shall be given priority to teach their courses online or remotely as a reasonable accommodation consistent with a Memorandum of Understanding with the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida.

All student learning and final examinations will migrate to a quality online platform beginning November 28, 2020, and following Thanksgiving break, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 resulting from holiday-related travel. Residence halls, dining options and student support services will remain open after Thanksgiving break for students who need access through the end of the fall semester.

This plan, guided by data and the expertise we are fortunate to have on our campus; informed by ongoing conversations with our faculty, staff, students and county partners; and designed for maximum flexibility we believe puts in place reasonable mitigation measures supported by education, training and a public health campaign that will enable us to deliver high quality instruction and a valuable university experience for our entire University of South Florida community.


On December 31, 2019, a pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Office in China. The “unknown cause” was labeled a novel (new) coronavirus in early January 2020, and the first confirmed case outside of China was reported by Thailand on January 13. By January 30, the virus began spreading globally and was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the WHO. On February 11, the novel coronavirus was named COVID-19, and one month later, on March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. 

The university acted quickly to keep our community members informed, sending out campus-wide messaging as early as January 27, 2020 – seven days after the first case in the United States was recognized. On March 1, the Florida Department of Health reported the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Florida, and Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order directing a statewide Public Health Emergency. On March 2, USF leadership created the COVID-19 Task Force to provide public health guidance and to assure cross-campus collaboration and support to the Department of Emergency Management as it led our response across our three campuses.

USF is dedicated to the health and safety of all within the university community while we work to sustain academic continuity and our research and service missions as a pre-eminent university. As we slowly transition back to on-campus operations for the Fall 2020 semester, we will follow data and guidance from the FDOH, CDC and other reliable sources, while being cognizant of our impact on those we serve.

To facilitate the return to on-campus operations, USF developed four (4) phases which incrementally increase the levels of activity permissible on each campus over time. Due to the evolving dynamics of this event, resumption plans developed by departments throughout USF are subject to change to maximize public health and safety. Planning assumptions that may need to be applied and must be kept in consideration during recovery efforts include:

  • As this is a dynamic event, this plan is subject to change based on surveillance data and in relation to guidance issued by public health and government officials.
  • The plan is designed to promote the health and wellbeing of our communities as a shared responsibility, but success may be dependent upon the personal efforts of the members of the USF and surrounding communities.
  • The ability of the university to adequately respond will in some measure be dependent on the capacity of the county(ies) and the state to support such response capability.
  • Herd immunity will not exist for a considerable period of time.
  • Disease mitigation measures including physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings may continue indefinitely.

This plan is in alignment with the Board of Governor’s Blueprint for Opening the State University System for Fall Semester 2020, and summarizes the current guidance for all USF campuses as they resume on-campus operations.