There may have been just a handful of people physically present on USF’s three campuses, but it was the busiest summer on record for hundreds of USF staff and faculty, hard at work to address the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Under guidance from the USF COVID-19 Task Force, which includes medical experts from USF Health, teams have been diligently preparing USF buildings and classrooms for a safe return later this month. They’ve installed nearly 48,000 pieces of signage and decals developed to reinforce the community’s shared responsibility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Buildings and classrooms have been reconfigured to allow for physical distancing. This includes moving tables and chairs or blocking them off with “do not sit here” barricade tape, ensuring people can sit six feet apart. Limits on class sizes and smaller laboratory capacities have also been established to reduce density inside of buildings. For example, classes with 100 or more students have moved to a fully online format, and class sizes of 50-100 students are strongly encouraged to move to an online delivery format. Larger class sections may be divided into multiple smaller sections to facilitate expanded access to face-to-face or blended delivery, depending upon available instructional space.
More than 900 plexiglass partitions (½ mile long) have been installed at reception desks, cashier locations and other points of service. Floor decals line common areas, marking safe places to stand. Many doors, stairwells and hallways are now one-way, with foot traffic guided by directional arrows. Automatic doors have been installed where feasible, including in buildings located in the USF Research Park. Public restrooms have also been adapted. Nearly 1,000 manual towel dispensers have been replaced with low-touch dispensers, 170 hand dryers have been disconnected and every other sink is now taped off. All water fountains have also been turned off. Elevators will operate at a limited capacity, many permitting no more than two people at a time.
Face coverings are required to be worn by all faculty, staff and students at all times when inside or around others. The CDC and World Health Organization recommend people wear them to protect themselves and to protect others from COVID-19, which is transmitted through respiratory droplets that pass when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. USF will provide a reusable face covering at the start of the fall semester for anyone who may need one. Students can pick up their face coverings during Week of Welcome at the Marshall Student Center in Tampa, at the main rotunda reception desk on the Sarasota-Manatee campus and in the University Student Center on the St. Petersburg campus. Residential students will receive them as part of their welcome package. The face coverings are in the process of being distributed to individual departments and units, which are responsible for administering them to their employees.
“We are dedicated to safety and well-being above all else,” said USF President Steve Currall. “We have invested significant time, energy and financial resources to offer flexible solutions that allow students to pursue their academic goals and stay on track for timely graduation, faculty to teach and continue their research and staff to work in a healthy environment.”
Hand sanitizer vending machines are now available at several locations across USF’s campuses. These machines will provide two complimentary 4-ounce bottles of spray hand sanitizer every 30 days by swiping a valid USF identification card. The bottles are intended to be the primary disinfectant of personal space used across the campuses, including at individual desks. Each classroom will also be stocked with 32-ounce bottles of spray sanitizer and paper towels as backup for when one does not have their personal sanitizers with them. Additionally, “SaniKits” have been placed in centralized employee areas, such as breakrooms, and are for use in offices and other employee spaces. Each kit includes three spray bottles of disinfectant, two packs of paper towels and a box of gloves, required to be worn when using the communal cleaning supplies.
USF has also developed enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols for all resumption phases that align with CDC guidelines and public health recommendations. Protocols call for additional focus on high-touch points/surfaces, utilizing products and/or materials proven effective for COVID-19. Electrostatic sprayers are also being deployed to kill bacteria in the Marshall Student Center, in athletics facilities and on Bull Runner buses. Signage will assist with physical distancing on the buses, in which maximum occupancy will be limited, and face coverings are required to be worn when boarding and for the duration of the transport.
USF residence halls have reduced the capacity of common areas and lounges and are now prohibiting visitors. Isolation spaces have also been identified to accommodate students who live on campus who test positive for the coronavirus and to accommodate other residential students who may have been exposed. Dining halls have reconfigured tables and chairs and no longer offer self-service items or allow reusable containers. Single-use condiments and silverware are now available, along with individually wrapped grab-and-go fruit.
More than 200 classrooms have been upgraded to allow for synchronous online learning. This includes the addition of high-definition cameras, microphones for the instructor and the audience, upgraded projectors, and software required to enable collaboration on Microsoft Teams. “Acquisition of Knowledge” in the Judy Genshaft Honors College was one of six pilot courses and labs offered on campus this summer. This provided USF Administrative Services the ability to test the effectiveness of upgraded technology, classroom configurations and signage. It also gave students and faculty a preview of how the fall semester will be conducted.
"I have only positive things to say about both the COVID-19 safety measures that are being implemented on campus and within the classroom and the effective signage that reinforces these precautions,” said philosophy instructor Raman Sachdev. “From the signs posted in and around university buildings that remind us of the requirement to wear masks to the taped chairs within the classroom that remind us to maintain social distancing, the concerted efforts by everyone at USF are helping to keep us safe."
Sachdev’s course was a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning. Seven students received face-to-face instruction and eight other students joined the course remotely through Microsoft Teams. Leading a discussion-based course, Sachdev was able to call on all students, including those who raised their hands virtually, allowing the hybrid conversation to flow smoothly.
“The precautionary health measures that have been established by USF cause little hindrance to my interactions with my peers,” said mechanical engineering undergraduate student Fayek Zaman, who participated in Sachdev’s course. “Overall, the classroom experience has been normal. I am able to audibly communicate with those who join virtually and in person, and classroom engagement hasn't really suffered.”
Due to the nature of instruction, some academic disciplines require additional safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as in the School of Music. Twenty-three specialty air purification units and 35 large plexiglass screens have been installed in the School of Music building, allowing students to practice their instruments and sing in-person. Enhanced physical distancing measures are also being implemented across other disciplines that require close interaction, such as in science teaching labs. Additional modifications will be made based on changes in the phased return to campus.
By the numbers:
400,000 reusable face coverings available
112,000 feet of barricade tape
37,100 floor decals
16,000 signs encouraging social behavioral changes
965 paper towel dispensers replaced
900 plexiglass screens (½ mile)
29 hand sanitizer vending machines