Ohio State announces plans for an autumn semester return to campuses

June 3, 2020

The Ohio State University today announced that it plans to resume in-person classes for the autumn semester.

The announcement was made by President Michael V. Drake at a meeting of the Board of Trustees and in a message to the university community. 

Specific guidelines will be announced in the coming weeks based on guidance from state and local health authorities and recommendations of the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup of the university’s COVID-19 Transition Task Force

The resumption of full operations on Ohio State campuses will include a combination of the use of appropriate face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene, limited density in indoor spaces, control of the flow of traffic into and around buildings, continued employee teleworking when possible, testing, symptoms tracking and contact tracing. 

A teaching and learning approach that combines in-person and distance methods is also being developed.

“We are dedicated to continuing our core mission, including providing the best possible college experience for our students while operating under a set of circumstances that no one has experienced before,” President Michael V. Drake said.

“The response of our university community to the pandemic has been exemplary, and we will continue to rely on students, faculty and staff to remain flexible and embrace the changes necessary to keep one another safe. We are counting on Buckeye Nation to be at its best.”

Academic calendar

The academic calendar will be adjusted as part of the return plan.

The first day of classes will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, and the last day will be Friday, Dec. 4 – with the last day of in-person, on-campus instruction taking place Wednesday, Nov. 25. Instruction in the last week of the semester, Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, and final exams from Dec. 7 to 11, will be accomplished through distance methods. The autumn commencement date and format will be announced at a later date.

 Under this schedule, some student vacation days – fall break Oct. 15-16 and Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving – are eliminated, and classes will be in session on those dates. Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and Labor Day (Sept. 7) will still be observed.

Phased return

As part of Ohio State’s phased approach, a limited number of academic, clinical and athletics operations are already resuming with safety protocols in place.

These include elective procedures at the Wexner Medical Center; some research and creative expression activities in laboratories, studios and research spaces; limited operations for student training at the College of Dentistry; and the university’s child care facilities (reopening June 10).

At this time, all non-essential university employees who are not part of an exempted operation or function are to continue teleworking and remain off campus.

Testing and contact tracing

Ohio State will soon announce details of a voluntary pilot testing program for those students, faculty and staff who are part of the phased return occurring for a limited number of units, including health professionals, researchers, student-athletes, marching band members and other students in the performing arts. The results of this pilot will be used to inform decisions about broader testing for autumn. 

On-campus housing and dining 

In order to maintain physical distancing when students are welcomed back to campus in the fall, the university will reduce population density in residence halls. No later than June 19, availability updates will be provided to first-year students and returning students who have expressed interest in living on campus. Living on campus contributes to student success and persistence, and the university will continue to house students of all ranks. 

Ohio State will temporarily expand the housing exemption criteria for returning second-year students for the 2020-21 academic year. Second-year students who want to exercise the special exemption must notify University Housing by June 10; they will receive an email with details. Housing options will be provided to second-year students who still choose to live in university housing. Information will also be posted on housing.osu.edu

Also, by June 19, the university will outline the details of the plan to promote physical distancing in on-campus housing and dining locations. For example, move-in will occur in a staggered approach over the course of up to two weeks, and dining options will feature mobile ordering and grab-and-go options. 

In accordance with guidance from the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup, the university will provide isolation and quarantine housing for on-campus residents. The residential experience is a core part of the Ohio State student experience, and university leaders are committed to promoting a safe and healthy on-campus experience in partnership with students.

Campus safety and health

The university will publish in the coming weeks a Safe and Healthy Playbook that will detail for students, faculty, staff and visitors the measures to be taken and the requirements being put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of the community. The university will issue personal protective equipment (PPE) packages to all returning students, faculty and staff.

The playbook is being developed with local and state health authorities and recommendations from the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup. It will include specific guidance on a range of measures, including appropriate face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene, health monitoring, testing and contact tracing, and quarantining and isolating people with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“One important thing to remember as a community is that what we know now may not hold a day from now or a month from now,” said Amy Fairchild, dean of the College of Public Health and co-chair of the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup.

“Conditions could change in ways that cause us to tighten up or relax. No one should be surprised by a change in recommendations - that is a reflection of rigorous and ongoing consideration.”

Public information initiative

To inform the community and reinforce the behaviors recommended by the Safe and Healthy Playbook, the university will launch a sustained public information initiative using social media, signage, instructional videos and other means. The effort will include a pledge for members of the campus community, including students, faculty, staff and visitors, to affirm their understanding of what’s needed to fight the spread of the virus and their intention to do their part. 

Fairchild said scientists have determined that the most significant route of airborne transmission of the virus is from people who are infected but have no symptoms or have not yet developed symptoms. In light of this, she said that uniform practice of safety measures - especially the combination of appropriate face coverings and physical distancing - will be an essential part of protecting one another as more people are living, learning and working on Ohio State’s campuses.

Athletics

As part of the phased reopening, university leaders are working on a plan to enable student-athletes to resume practice and competition. This includes the phased reopening of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the Schumaker Complex. Final plans for all sports will be subject to decisions made by the Big Ten Conference and NCAA, and directives of state and local health authorities.

“Regarding football, our hope and intention is to safely have a football season, with an audience spaced out in our stadium, but we haven’t made any final decisions,” Drake said.

“The task force has been and will remain laser-focused on the safety and well-being of the university community,” said Gail Marsh, Ohio State’s chief strategy officer and chair of the COVID-19 Transition Task Force. “This process has required a comprehensive look at the entirety of Ohio State, which is effectively a city within a city, and collecting vast amounts of data to make evidence-based decisions.

“Faculty, staff and students across the university have lent their expertise to help us arrive at this point.”

Drake said the university must strike the proper balance of risks, including those related to health as well as social and economic harms.

“We have learned that we can take advantage of online learning to provide innovative educational opportunities, and that will continue to be a part of the solution,” he said. “The things we value will also remain possible: rich, immersive educational experiences that cannot be recreated online, such as labs, studios, field studies, performances and clinical activities.”

Editor's note: The university will share regular updates while finalizing details to resume full on-campus operations as safely and seamlessly as possible. Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about autumn semester.