Dear USF Community,
On August 24, fall classes will begin at the University of South Florida. As we plan to bring more students, faculty and staff back to our campuses, we recognize that many of you have questions, especially as you read news reports about COVID-19 trends in our state. I wish to reassure you that we are diligently monitoring public health data on a daily basis. We take seriously our responsibility to promote a healthy and safe environment for our community.
Throughout our planning - and guided by our world-class experts from USF Health in fields of epidemiology, medicine and public health - we have pledged to make well-informed, evidence-based decisions with public health as the key consideration. Our plan is intentionally designed to be flexible and adaptable as we determine how to gradually resume additional on-campus activities.
We regularly monitor relevant data, such as visits to local emergency rooms for COVID-like illnesses; the number of new COVID-19 cases; the test positivity rate; and the impact on hospital capacity. Over the past several weeks, we have observed encouraging trends in each of these indicators across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee counties. These trends, as of August 5, show declining cases and improving test positivity rates for each of the four counties.
*The source of the data is the Florida Department of Health. FDOH provides daily updates that can be found here.
Our commitment to evidence-based decision-making remains at the core of the announcement today that USF will proceed to a modified Phase II of our return-to-campus plan beginning Friday, August 7. We have responded to the evolving nature of COVID-19, and our understanding of the virus, by adjusting our plans in Phase II. In fact, a number of the Phase II conditions, such as remote work and virtual meetings, are already in place.
Phase II operational details:
- Courses will be delivered through a combination of face-to-face, hybrid and online instruction and learning.
- All employees who can work remotely should continue to do so.
- No more than 50% of employees should be on campus at any one time.
- Some points of service may open with limited hours, capacities or activities, such as libraries, student centers and campus recreation facilities on all three campuses. Additional health and safety precautions will be in place, including requirements to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings and follow cleaning protocols. Requests to open facilities for more in-person operations will continue to be reviewed by the USF COVID-19 Task Force, led by USF College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen. A list of services and opening dates, which will continue to be updated, is available here.
- Residence halls will open with new health and safety policies in place.
- All meetings and events should continue to be held virtually. Limited exceptions may be considered and must be reviewed in advance by the USF COVID-19 Task Force.
- Some common areas or gathering spaces may open on a limited basis with health and safety requirements.
- Travel restrictions remain in place.
- Beginning with the fall semester, everyone coming to campus must complete a daily symptom check through an easy-to-use digital platform. More information will be shared with you soon.
Many USF units that would like to return to campus in Phase II have already submitted formalized plans detailing how they intend to implement and monitor health and safety measures and limit the number of employees on campus. Additional units that wish to come back must complete the request form available here, which will be reviewed by the USF COVID-19 Task Force.
One important factor in the timing of the Phase II decision is the need to prepare for the start of the fall semester on August 24. For instance, faculty who will teach hybrid courses will be provided time to receive final training and get acclimated to new technology inside their classrooms in order to meet our standards for delivering high-quality courses. We must also allow time for resident assistants and students who will live in our residence halls to move in prior to the first day of classes.
We have invested significant time, energy and resources to offer flexible solutions that allow students to pursue their academic goals without disruption, faculty to teach and continue their research, and staff to work in a healthy environment to support our academic mission.
As we have said previously, students will not be required to take face-to-face courses this semester. However, we know that some prefer to learn in person, depending on the field of study (e.g., performing arts or in a laboratory setting). We want to offer those opportunities with safety measures in place.
As outlined in the recently published “Faculty Guidance and Advice for Fall 2020,” USF is taking significant steps to help keep faculty members safe, including but not limited to giving those who identify in a high-risk category, or live with those at risk, priority to teach courses online and providing sanitization supplies for instructional and research spaces. USF will follow its established processes and work with students or employees who have health conditions or personal circumstances that may impact their ability to return to campus.
Our enhanced safety precautions include installing thousands of signs with reminders to use required face coverings, to maintain physical distancing and practice good hygiene. Adjustments have been made to our facilities, such as adding plexiglass shields and limits on room and elevator capacities. New outdoor spaces have been identified and will be furnished as places to work or study between classes.
The success of our plan relies on USF’s culture of caring and a shared sense of responsibility to sustain the well-being of our community, even in our daily lives when we’re not on campus. Anyone who feels sick should stay home. To be clear: There will be zero tolerance and serious consequences for individuals who don’t comply with our expected behaviors and who jeopardize the health of others. We’re all in this together.
Thank you for your ongoing resilience and patience as USF enters the next phase of our planned return to campus.
Steven C. Currall
President and Professor