TORRINGTON – The Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees last week approved a tentative plan for starting the 2020-21 academic year.
Like other plans at similar institutions around the country, the EWC blueprint – dubbed Eastern Wyoming College Recover, Respond and Restart 2020 – includes provisions to keep students, staff and visitors safe when school restarts Aug. 24 in the age of COVID-19.
“We’ve been practicing this all summer long,” said Lesley Travers, Ph.D., EWC president.
“We’ve been working on this all summer. They’re getting it down. It’s becoming part of our daily lives.”
At the start, the EWC plan differs slightly from other local reopening plans, including those of the Goshen County School District, given the different nature of the population of the college. Students coming in from out of town, across the country and, in some cases, around the world presents unique challenges, Travers said.
Students will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to their arrival on campus, for example. Once on campus, they will be required to undergo daily health screenings, including temperature checks and questionnaires asking if they have a fever, other symptoms of COVID-19, or have been in contact with anyone who does.
Social distancing and face coverings will also be required in all group situations, Travers said. Shaking hands and hugging or other forms of platonic affection will be discouraged.
The plan also includes three options, or phases, for reopening residence halls. Those range from the least-restrictive full reopening, with 200 beds available. In the middle is a gradual reopening, with single-occupancy dormitories for the general student body in Eastern Hall and student athletes occupying the Lancer Hall dormitory. That would reduce available room occupancy to 50 students in Eastern Hall.
The most restrictive opening plan limits occupancy to 40 beds, allowing for single rooms with a private bathroom. A lottery would be held to fill those beds of the number of requests for on-campus housing exceeded availability, according to the plan.
Regardless of the plan put in place, five rooms will be set aside to quarantine students who do show symptoms.
Travers doesn’t foresee problems with the residence plans. Vice President of Student Affairs Roger Humphrey reported to the board last week that applications for on-campus housing this year were down, compared to previous years. Several students said they were looking for off-campus housing, Humphrey reported.
“We’re not going to have full occupancy this year – I just don’t see it,” Travers said. “In years past, by this time, we had waiting lists for dorms.”
All the options require mandatory reporting of flu-like symptoms which could indicate a coronavirus infection, the plan states. Face coverings or other personal protective equipment will be required as well as contact tracing.
Visitors would be limited and would be subject to the regular health screenings, questionnaires and temperature checks, not just in dormitories, but in all EWC facilities. Anyone refusing to wear face coverings and to follow social distancing and other requirements of the plan will not be permitted on the EWC campuses in Torrington and Douglas.
“The big challenge is going to be those students who say, ‘I can’t wear a mask,’” Travers said. “Unfortunately, they’re not going to be able to come on campus. I can’t risk exposing 500 students who wear a mask to 10 who can’t – or won’t – wear a mask.
“I’m going to take care of the kids who are on my campus,” she said. “You’re not going to argue this with me and win.”
The plan also includes provisions for remote learning options for students. The college has applied for CARES act funding, which could provide laptops, internet “hotspots” and other technology to help students carry on their course work remotely.
Big in the plan is personal responsibility, with both students and employees urged to do something their mother’s probably spent years drilling into them – clean up after themselves. And that admonition extends to student residence halls.
“Make sure you clean up before and after yourself,” Travers said. “It’s kind of like, I leave my office every day and wipe things down every day, then come in in the morning and wipe things down. I want our custodians only to have to empty trash and vacuum.
“The cleaner things are, the easier it is to wipe things down,” she said. “Lately, I’ve been keeping a pretty clean workspace because it’s easier to clean. The students, I guess they’re going to have to keep an eye on each other.”
Ensuring there are enough supplies – everything from gloves to cleaners to hand sanitizers – is the responsibility of Keith Jarvis, director of the Physical Plant at EWC. And, in some cases, securing those needed supplies in time for the planned start of classes and before is still challenging, Jarvis said.
And not just any cleaners will do, he said. Not everything available on the market will do the job of getting rid of the novel coronavirus. Even the perennial standby sanitizer, bleach, is in short supply right now.
“I’m still having problems getting some supplies,” Jarvis said. “I have to keep checking the labels for EPA-approved sanitizers, for example.”
He reiterated the need for everyone to pitch in and help with some of the routine, daily cleaning around classrooms and offices. Jarvis’s custodial staff just isn’t big enough to handle the new level of cleaning required to combat the spread of coronavirus. That problem is compounded by staffing limitations being imposed by the state’s current fiscal crisis, with across-the-board cuts mandated by Governor Mark Gordon on all state agencies – including the community colleges.
“Some of the onus is falling on instructors to help out with cleaning, wiping surfaces,” Jarvis said. “We can’t have an army of people here 18 hours a day – everyone is going to have to step up.
“I don’t like to use the term, but this is the new normal,” he said. “It’s a different look at what our daily routine will be. Now, we have to clean everything, every day.”
Even having hand sanitizer available takes on new dimensions under COVID-19, they said. Travers plans to provide each student, staff and faculty member with their own individual bottle of sanitizer when they arrive on campus, with refill stations strategically placed around the campus. That means Jarvis has to be sure there’s enough material available to keep the refill stations stocked and ready for use.
“Normally, hand sanitizer use was hit and miss,” he said. “Now, I’m having to buy enough hand sanitizer that would have previously lasted us 10 years.”
The goal of the plan is to get students and faculty back in the classroom with as few disruptions and as safely as possible, the 2020-21 academic year is breaking new ground. It’s going to be very different, Travers said. In previous years, the opening days of the school year have been all about bringing students together and instilling a sense of camaraderie.
“Generally, we do a lot of mixers during the first week for students, so they can all start to feel they fit in and get to know each other,” she said. “That’s not going to happen this year.
“It’s just going to be different,” Travers said. “In previous years, we’d have them all together, cozy them up, bring them to the front of the auditorium. Now, it’s going to be ‘three seats apart.’”