Note: This is the first in a series of stories that will explore the ways in which Pittsburg State University has been preparing all summer for the fall semester in an effort to be as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future stories will focus on specific aspects of campus life, including academics in each of the university’s four colleges, recreation, student health, and more.

As Pittsburg State University reopens its campus amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has announced it has been making plans to mitigate risk based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended best practices.

PSU has developed several contingency plans, it said, which are the product of three working groups and a lengthy roster of staff and administrators who have spent most of the summer preparing them.

"The health and safety of our campus community remains our highest priority and has been the driving focus behind all of our decision making,” PSU President Steve Scott said in the release. “We’ll continue to carefully monitor the situation and assess needs,making adjustmentsas we go."

The guiding principle of PSU’s planning effort, according to the university, is to focus on the safety of those who spend time at the university in offices, classrooms, and public spaces, while serving as a model to the community.

Masks

A mask requirement went into effect earlier this summer in work spaces where social distancing could not be maintained, and, just prior to the statewide executive order by Gov. Laura Kelly, was extended to the entire campus effective June 29.

On Friday, July 17, the university finalized a policy that governs how the mask requirement will be enforced; that policy was sent to students, parents, and employees and can be found at pittstate.edu/coronavirus.

On Monday, July 20, when many employees began returning to campus after having worked remotely, each was given a mask by the university. When students return on Aug. 17, they’ll be given masks provided by Mpix, a community partner.

Scientific studies have shown that mask wearing dramatically reduces the chances of spreading COVID-19, the university said. The requirement will be in place on campus for the foreseeable future and will be reassessed regularly.

“Our goal is not only to open, but to stay open until we dismiss students on Nov. 20 for fall break and online completion of the semester,” Scott said. “To achieve that goal, we must each take individual responsibility, and one of the things known to prevent transmission of the virus is wearing a mask.”

Meetings

When employees transitioned in the spring to working remotely amid stay-at-home orders, they began using tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to hold virtual meetings, and to collaborate on shared projects.

That strategy will continue as much as possible even when employees are fully back on campus in order to reduce the number of people gathered in meeting rooms.

“Social distancing is another best practice known to reduce transmission, and with the expertise of our IT department and Center for Teaching and Learning Technology to help guide us, we’re using resources that will make that possible,” Scott said.

Measures

The university has shared a guide for reopening with employees, which will be updated and expanded in coming weeks. The university also continues to remind those who travel this summer to high-risk areas to follow the KDHE recommendation to quarantine for 14 days upon their return. That list currently includes Florida and Arizona.

Department heads are working with employees to stagger times in the office to minimize density, with the goal of offices being fully staffed on Aug. 3.

Those who manage high-traffic areas have worked with a local manufacturer to make plexiglass sneeze guards for public-facing areas. They produced social distancing floor stickers for areas that might have lines or people congregating.

The university has moved fall break from October to Nov. 23-24, and will go fully online from Nov. 27 to Dec. 11, so that once students return home for Thanksgiving, they don’t return to campus until the start of the spring semester.

“An important factor in transmission and spread is traveling and participating in gatherings, so to reduce this risk among our students, faculty, and staff, we chose to alter our academic calendar for the fall,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Howard Smith. “Keeping our campus community safe is our top priority, and making these changes lowers our risk of an outbreak on our campus and in our community.”

Commencement will be held on Nov. 20-21.

Students and parents were emailed a link last week to a student guide for returning to campus; it can be found at pittstate.edu/coronavirus. In it, students are asked to stay away from large gatherings in the weeks before coming to campus, to not travel to high risk areas, and to isolate if experiencing symptoms or after possible exposure.

Those coming from high risk areas are asked to quarantine for 14 days prior to coming to campus, or by Aug. 3 to prepare for the Aug. 17 start of school.