As the start of fall classes approaches for colleges and universities in the Northland, many have fears about what the semester will hold.
For University of Wisconsin-Superior student and hockey player Cassie McClure, her worry is that the campus will call off face-to-face operations again. It's a reality many campuses around the nation are already facing as schools make the call to walk back reopening plans.
"I want to be here, very much. I want to have our season. We all want to follow rules," McClure said. "We all want (the rules) to be strict so we can be here. We don't like not being here."
Her and her teammates are in agreement. They're not going to bars nor having large gatherings. They're only seeing each other.
About 54% of all UW-Superior classes will be offered in person. The remaining will be taught online. Fall classes begin Sept. 2.
Dean of Students Harry Anderson said he's found that students have been "all-in" and cooperative when it comes to following the safety protocols and protecting the greater community.
"I truly think students are starting to see and understand the ramifications or what will happen if there is a community spread on campus and things become unsafe," Anderson said. "They know that classes may change into an online format."
Despite his confidence in the student body at UW-Superior, he's not without worry. As the dean of students Anderson said it's the nature of his job to have concern about students' safety, even without a pandemic.
To support campuses in their safety and testing protocols, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has allocated $32 million to the UW System to be used for COVID-19 testing on campuses.
The plan is to test students in residence halls every two weeks.
"Each UW campus is figuring out the process for how to have that be done, getting qualified staff to administer those tests, get the results and do the tracking from there," said Jordan Milan, director of strategic communications and special assistant to the chancellor.
As of Wednesday, the campus had 565 students planning to live in on-campus housing, though that number is still in flux. In a normal year, UW-Superior houses more than 700 students. This year a much larger number of students will be living in rooms without a roommate. Anderson estimated that around 50% of students living on campus requested a single-occupancy room.
"We have made every accommodation a student has asked for," Anderson said. "We're not forcing students into doubles. If a student self-selects to have a roommate they can go ahead and choose to do that."
UW-Superior is the only four-year school with on-campus housing in the Twin Ports to implement a no-guest policy in residential halls.
The school has set aside designated floors and wings for residential students who need to quarantine or isolate. A flow chart exists for any student who has been infected or has reason to believe they have been exposed to use.
For those attending in-person classes, wipe-down supplies will be provided in each classroom. Before occupying a desk, students are asked to disinfect that space.
Filtration and air flow systems have been upgraded to what clinics and hospitals use, said Mark Graves, building and grounds superintendents. His team will monitor the system to ensure it's providing the appropriate air-exchange rate.
"This has been a major investment," Graves said. "It's a major economic investment to ensure that we provide a safe environment for our students."
The university has been able to utilize some of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding it received to offset the costs of preparing the campus, though the bulk of that money went to students.
Plexiglas shields have been installed at the instructor's desk in classrooms and room capacities have been dramatically reduced. Already small class sizes of 30 students, for example, have been dropped down to 10 or less students for in-person classes.
For a small group of classes where the enrollment exceeds the room capacity for safety, instructors will bring in cohorts of students on a rotating schedule, said Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Maria Cuzzo.
If a student enrolled in an in-person class requests an online alternative for health reasons, that request goes to a specialized office. And at the beginning of the fall planning process, instructors indicated their teaching preferences in a survey.
"Our instructors are the backbone of our university and the way that they have consistently, positively and with a can-do attitude stepped up to the plate and have done astounding creative work to take care of our students and their learning will be an inspiration that lasts the rest of my life," Cuzzo said.
As new science continues to emerge about COVID-19, which Cuzzo said seems to shift by the week, new challenges constantly emerge.
Instructors are prepared to pivot to online formats should the need arise.
UW-Superior will monitor the following factors to determine if a shift to completely online instruction needs to be made: number of cases in the area, directives from Douglas County Public Health and other local officials, changes in guidelines at the local, state and national levels as well as regular assessment of absences due to illness.
Chancellors must consult with the UW System prior to making a final decision, Milan said.