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Back-to-school safety guide: CMU sets guidelines ahead of unprecedented semester


A Central Michigan University freshman pushes a cart of dorm necessities up to the main entrance of Calkins Residence Hall Aug. 13 at Central Michigan University.

Because she is starting her Central Michigan University experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lindsay Fleck is worried about meeting new people on campus while remaining safe.

"It will be hard to truly meet people and get to know them with all the social distancing and face mask requirements," the Vicksburg freshman said. "It may, however, give me an even better chance to become friends with my roommates."

CMU is requiring students, faculty and staff to wear face coverings in public spaces and social distance while on campus as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations suggest

As students begin classes two weeks earlier than traditionally scheduled, and before other competing universities, the university has distributed guidelines on different platforms. The Fired Up for Fall page, emails and social media provide information to students, staff, parents and visitors to campus.

It will be up to students, and others, to actually follow these guidelines to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. 

"We are committed to doing everything we can as a university to protect your health and safety, and we also rely on you to take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus," President Bob Davies said in an email to students Aug. 11. 

Academic Guidelines

As a theatre major, Fleck is curious to see how some of her classes will be taught in an online-only or hybrid style.

"I’m taking 'Acting I,' which will be interesting because it’s online," Fleck said. "'Stage Makeup' is hybrid, but we don’t know the plan yet."

In order to operate as safely as possible, faculty have adapted their teaching styles to include both face-to-face and online courses. As they prepare for the first week of classes, several students we spoke with were unaware what form their classes would take.

"To give students and faculty as many choices as possible this semester, CMU will offer classes in several formats," Davies said in his email. 

Online synchronous, online asynchronous, Hyflex and hybrid are the four specific course classifications for the Fall 2020 semester, which are specified for each class on the registration portal. 

For instance, online synchronous courses consist of sitting through a virtual livestream lecture or class at a specific time and day. On the other hand, asynchronous online courses refer to online assignments, lectures and simulations that do not require students to log in at a specific time. Hybrid is a combination of online asynchronous and face-to-face, where Hyflex is a combination of online synchronous and face-to-face.

Faculty choose which of the four methods they are comfortable with and what best suits their course.

"All of our learning spaces will be assessed for capacity and social distancing," the Fired Up For Fall site said. "Some classrooms will be reconfigured to allow for more space between students and faculty; some classes may be taught in larger venues."

To work within capacity limits, Hyflex courses may divide which days students are live streaming or in-person. 

On-campus classrooms and workspaces are required to adhere to all face covering and social distancing guidelines.

"CMU custodial staff will continue to clean and disinfect classroom areas, and cleaning supplies will be available in each classroom so faculty and students may clean chairs and desks between classes should they wish to do so," Fired Up for Fall stated. "Hand sanitizer stations will be available at main building entrances."

According to the Fired Up for Fall guidelines, any student with COVID-19 symptoms or a diagnosis will have remote access to courses.

Student Success Center and Academic Assistance have been working on helping students succeed with online and hybrid courses. 

"If you wish to visit an academic support center, please contact them in advance to learn what their hours are, whether they require an appointment, and if they are offering online support," Dean of Libraries Kathy Irwin said in a library post. "This includes the Writing Center, Math Assistance Center, Certified Testing Center, Student Disability Services, and the Statistical Consulting Center."

Student Life

After years of relying on the majority of the studios in Wightman Hall giving 24 hour access to art students, Lauren Blake is worried about how she will finish her Senior Show exhibit with potential minimum access.

“Going into this semester, we really haven’t heard anything yet about what those procedures are for how they are going to handle social distancing in such a small space,” the Big Rapids senior said.

Like Blake, many students rely on labs and campus workspaces to complete class work. It's unclear how much access students will have to those spaces, if any. Spaces to study or eat throughout the university will still be available to all students as usual during the semester.

"Seating in all areas on campus has been reduced to comply with appropriate state and CDC guidelines," the CMU Emergency Management Team said.

The university is working to identify more study locations for students, aside from the library.

"Several spaces, mostly classrooms when they are not in use, have been identified specifically for students who need study space," the Emergency Management Team said. "These spaces and the times they’re available will soon be communicated to students."

The Charles V. Park Library will be open for students while complying with the State of Michigan Executive order 2020-161, item six. Under this order, there is a capacity limit of four people per 1,000 square feet. Although there is not a set maximum occupancy for the library, there is limited seating and computer access.

While studying at the library, students are required to have only one person per table, adhere to designated cubicle spaces and disinfect surfaces before and after using them. Group study rooms will not be available, but specialized spots for the vulnerable population are available.

All physical book stacks in the library are not available for students to peruse and check out, but will be available for contact-free pick up to reduce handling of materials while still allowing access. All course reserve books will be available online only for the semester.

"You can use Smart Search to place a hold on the book(s) you want," Irwin explained in the post. "You will receive an email when your book is ready with a link to schedule a day and time to pick up your book(s) from the library lobby of the library. When you’re finished with a book, you can return it in one of the book drops near the library entrances."

As executive orders still have closures on indoor gyms, the Student Activities Center is staging everything to be ready as the order is lifted.

"We have now been advantaged by the Governor revising the executive order and allowing us now to have classes in the SAC," said Stan Shingles, assistant vice president of university recreation and student engagement. "This will allow staffing, and for us to test new protocols during this time. We will also be open for meeting space, but cannot open gyms and fitness spaces yet."

Registered Student Organizations are required to follow CMU guidelines and are strongly encouraged to meet remotely.

Residence Halls

Midland sophomore Aria Segura is looking forward to the start of the fall semester and living with friends in Larzelere Hall, regardless of the new safety protocols. 

"I am really not feeling very concerned about my actual living situation, just because I know they are all going to be safe," Segura said. 

Since not all students, especially incoming freshmen, know their roommates well enough to have the same confidence in their living situations, safety guidelines will be strictly enforced by Residence Hall staff. To minimize close contact, the capacity in residence hall rooms has been reduced. In addition, shared spaces in each hall – such as kitchens, laundry areas and study rooms – will have limited access and must be disinfected before and after use.

According to the Office of Residence Life, visitors who do not live on campus are strongly discouraged in the residence halls and on campus apartments.

"Visitors who must come to campus should remain in residence hall lobbies where social distancing is possible," the Office of Residence Life said in a FAQ. "No overnight guests will be allowed in university residence halls or apartments for the Fall 2020 semester."

If an on-campus resident tests positive for COVID-19, they will have the option to self-isolate in a designated residence hall on campus or return home to self-isolate. 

However, if an on-campus student has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for 14 days either in a designated residence hall space or return home.

Face coverings must be worn in public spaces, both indoors and outdoors, at all times. If a student refuses to comply they will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct.

Campus Dining 

Unlike most of his friends, Farmington sophomore Rafael Garza has spent lots of time educating himself on the Fall 2020 campus guidelines. He still has concerns, specifically with dining hall procedures.

“If we were already having long lines and wait times, how are we going to do that with 50 percent capacity?” Garza said. “We will have to wait longer. Nothing is self-served anymore. Now we will have to wait for an employee which will be an even longer wait.”

Garza looked at the Campus Dining FAQ for Fall 2020 to learn as much as possible to calm his nerves, but not all of his questions were answered.

• In the dining halls, how will face masks be enforced?

Central Michigan University requires everyone able to wear a covering over their nose and mouth when inside all dining facilities. Like restaurants, students can only remove their face masks when sitting at a table.

• How will the service stations be changed to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Plexiglas barriers are positioned at various points of dining halls. 

A Mexican food station will temporarily replace the Mongolian grill at Fresh Food Company and Real Food On Campus to maintain consistent menu options. International stations have been integrated into the southern kitchen station to continue offering a diverse menu.

Certain food items at self-serve stations have been temporarily discontinued, like soup and ice cream. 

Reusable items like salt and pepper shakers have been removed, and condiments will only be available at individual stations.

• What precautions are the staff taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

CMU has initiated enhanced cleaning protocols in dining facilities for high-risk and high-touch areas. All residential restaurants will close daily from 3 to 4:30 p.m. for deep cleaning and sanitation.

Students are encouraged to dine at residential restaurants located in their own living community to limit contact between students. This will also release the strain on restaurants that have a larger number of residents to serve and seat.

Sanitizer stations will also be available throughout the residential restaurants.

• How has capacity been reduced to and will it be enforced?

Following state and local guidelines, seating capacity inside dining halls will be limited to 50 percent. Tables and chairs have been removed and spaced out around the dining halls to encourage proper social distancing.

Students are advised to avoid peak dining hours from noon to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Students are also advised to limit the amount of time sitting and eating to 30 minutes when possible.

• Will To-Go meals be more available to students and what will that process look like?

All students with a CMU meal plan will be given a takeout container at the beginning of the fall semester. Replacement containers will be available for purchase at greeter stands inside residential restaurants for $8. No refunds or returns of takeout containers will be accepted. 

If a student decides to get a takeout meal from a dining hall, they must bring takeout containers to the restaurant and notify the greeter upon entering. The container must be clean. Once they swipe or tap their student ID to enter, greeters will exchange their container with a clean, sanitized one. 

Students can then visit food stations and allow staff to fill their container. Students may request up to two servings of each food selection. All takeout food must fit in the designated container.

In addition to a takeout container, students may grab one to-go beverage and one piece of fruit, which does not have to fit in the container. Disposable utensil packets are also available at greeter stands when students enter.

Only one takeout container may be filled per guest, per visit and students must leave the dining hall to eat their meal if they’ve selected takeout. 

• Are students still allowed to share their meal swipes?

With limited seating capacity in the residential restaurants, meal plans for commuters, faculty, staff, graduate students and on campus apartment residents have been discontinued for fall semester. 

However, these students, faculty and staff are welcome to eat inside dining halls occasionally using credit or FLEX Dollars.

FLEX Dollar packages are available for those living off campus that wish to dine at the food court, coffee shops and on campus markets.

The university is unaware of what will specifically happen within the semester in this unpredictable time.

"Like all other institutions, CMU cannot make operational guarantees during this pandemic. Our full intent is to keep the university open with face-to-face classes and to keep our residence halls and apartments open," the Residence Life FAQ states. "As we have consistently demonstrated throughout this challenging time, the health and safety of our community remains our highest priority. Every decision we make is guided by this principle."