Ohio University's Baker Center

Ohio University’s Baker Center. Photo by Ben Peters.

Ohio University announced Tuesday that it plans to bring roughly 7,000 students back to the Athens campus at the end of September as part of its second phase of reopening.

The 7,200 students returning to campus on Sept. 28 accounts for 31 percent of undergraduate students enrolled at the Athens campus and all graduate students, including those in the medical school, according to a statement from the university.

OU previously announced that on-campus activities will come to a halt on Nov. 20, the day Thanksgiving break begins, and classes will be moved online for the remaining two weeks of the semester. That means many students will only be on campus this fall for eight weeks.

“Although I know some of you may have been hopeful of a complete re-opening of our campus, we have determined that with Phase 2, while increasing the number of students we are bringing back to our residence halls and University community, we must still continue to proceed with a more careful approach for the remainder of fall semester to protect our campus community and the City of Athens during these uncertain times,” OU President Duane Nellis said in a statement.

The university said it’s “cautiously” planning for spring semester with the hopes of bringing back more students.

“We can only do so if it is possible to effectively mitigate health risks of both our campus and off campus communities. The trajectory of the pandemic as well as our success during Phase 2 will inform decisions about Spring,” a university statement says.

All students included phase 2 should receive an email from the university on Tuesday notifying them of their eligibility. The university provided a list of some programs included in phase 2, but it was not inclusive of everything returning.

Students enrolled in music therapy, music education and nursing will return in phase 2 because in-person experiences associated with each program are required for accreditation, licensure or other external requirements, according to the university.

Many of the other programs slated to return require access to on-campus spaces or equipment for activities that can’t be completed remotely, including several Honors Tutorial College majors, studio art, music, stage production, photojournalism, commercial photography, and media arts production. Students enrolled in upper-level labs in programs such as biology, chemistry, geology, physics, plant biology; chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, and engineering technology and management will also be permitted to return.

Other students enrolled in programs or classes that require “integrated experiential learning,” like dance, theater and social work are able to return. Students in certain business courses that require “integrated assignments and group projects” are also authorized to come back, along with students enrolled in the master’s of science in environmental studies program.

Many students in phase 2 will continue most of their coursework online, while some will have face-to-face classes.

It’s unclear exactly how many of those students will live in on-campus residence halls. Those returning in phase 2 who live in residence halls will receive new housing assignments, the university said.

They will be charged a prorated amount for their housing and dining in accordance with the number of weeks they live on-campus. Students with extenuating circumstances not included in phase 2 who wish to live on-campus can apply to do so here.

COVID-19 testing for returning students is not required by the university, though all students are expected to observe a 14-day quarantine at their home before traveling to campus.

Once they arrive, all students are required to follow the university’s public health expectations. Though, it remains unclear exactly how the university is working to enforce its health policies.

The university previously said those who fail to comply with its health policies, such as attending large off-campus parties or not wearing a mask, could face a university suspension or removal from in-person classes.

“Total participation in Phase 2 is subject to change based on student choices and exception processes for students with extenuating circumstances,” the university statement says.

The university plans to launch a dashboard in “the coming days,” Nellis said, much like others school across the state have done to report virus cases that originate among students and staff.

It’s unclear exactly when the dashboard will release.

The plan to only bring select groups of students back to campus in phase 2 was made with the help of Kenneth Johnson, D.O., the university’s chief medical affairs officer, and Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, along with Athens County public health officials. The university also considered public health data and input from faculty and staff, the statement said.

For its first phase of reopening, Ohio University brought back about 2,200 students, including 263 student athletes.

OU Spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said at the time less than half of those student athletes would live on campus.

She said in late August that 313 total students would live in on-campus residence halls during phase 1; however, that number may have slightly changed since.

Since phase 1 began on Aug. 24, there has been an increase of confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Athens County not seen since July when the county experienced its largest surge to date.

The vast majority of lifetime cases in the county are among young people ages 20-29.

As of Tuesday, 14 students have tested positive for the virus on OU’s Athens campus through tests conducted under the university’s partnership with OhioHealth, Leatherwood said in an email. OhioHealth has conducted 78 tests across all OU campuses since Aug. 24 for both students and staff.

OU’s count of COVID-19 cases only accounts for those tested through OhioHealth and not those who may have received tests with other providers in the area such as Holzer Health Systems or CVS Pharmacy.

“This data may not be a comprehensive reflection of all positive cases within our Ohio University community,” Leatherwood said.

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