More than 900 people logged in on June 16 for a virtual town hall with Institute leadership discussing the plan to safely return to campus this fall. President Ángel Cabrera was joined by Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and K. Harrison Brown Family Chair; Kelly Fox, executive vice president for Administration and Finance; Larry Jacobs, professor and associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering; Colin Potts, vice provost for Undergraduate Education; and John Stein, vice president of Student Life and the Brandt-Fritz Dean of Students Chair. Renee Kopkowski, vice president for Institute Communications, moderated the event.
Cabrera said the plan to return to campus in the fall will require everyone’s participation and commitment to a certain set of behaviors, including changes to protocols around physical distancing, cleaning, and testing. The plan follows guidance from the University System of Georgia (USG), the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force, the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and all existing executive orders from the governor of Georgia.
“This will be a new form of normal, if you define normal as how we were working a few months ago,” said Cabrera. “It’s not going to be easy. We must continue to be humble about what we know and what we don’t know, and be ready to change course depending on how things evolve in the next few weeks.”
Campus leaders fielded questions from viewers, some submitted in advance and others in real time. Here is a sampling.
Can students choose to stay at home for the fall semester? If someone is caring for a family member who is immunocompromised, can that person stay at home this fall?
Colin Potts: Regarding students who prefer to stay remote and only take online classes, we are not planning to offer all classes in a remote-only mode. In fact, even the remote classes will probably involve some degree of in-person interaction during the semester. We want students to understand that we are not moving online as an option, but some courses will be offered in this mode. The vast majority of students are eager to come back. And we are planning a residential default form of teaching in the fall.
Regarding an employee who is caring for a family member in a vulnerable healthcare situation, the CDC recognizes several preexisting health conditions as a significant risk factor for Covid-19. We have provisions for applying for accommodations for employees. Regarding the health condition of a family member in the same household, the best thing to do is talk to your supervisor or to your faculty chair to make arrangements.
With only a few large classrooms on campus, how will physical distancing be feasible?
Larry Jacobs: First, we’re not going to change the class schedule. Students are registered, and they will not have to re-register unless they want to change something. To free up classrooms at the high end, classes with more than a certain number of students will move to primarily remote instruction. That will free up some classrooms.
Depending on the type of class, students may only be allowed to come to class in person a certain number of days. The other days, students will receive the information remotely. The instructor can teach in person to a smaller number of students, but distribute that information to the entire class.
Can you tell us how physical distancing might be accomplished around common campus activities such as student organizations, the Campus Recreation Center, and the Counseling Center?
John Stein: Similar to the classroom setting, all of the common spaces and social spaces are being analyzed to determine the proper occupancy with the physical distancing requirements and guidelines. Students and student organizations will have a clear sense of that upon returning to campus. We ask that anyone who has their own common space, such as a lounge, work with the proper people to configure the furniture for physical distancing. Student organizations will be encouraged to consider holding virtual events. If they must hold an in-person event they must follow the guidelines, including requiring face coverings. The goal is to continue to offer a very robust experience for students, but in a different way.
The Counseling Center; the Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education (CARE); the Health Center; and the Dean’s Office will be open for virtual and in-person meetings.
Can you share details regarding physical distancing for Housing and Dining?
Kelly Fox: The plan is to have reduced capacity housing, so you will see more physical distancing available. There will be increased cleaning protocols, with the shared spaces being disinfected multiple times a day. We will have accommodations for students who test positive for Covid-19 and need to be quarantined.
In terms of dining, we’re offering single packaging pickup meals to reduce interaction in dining halls. And we’re increasing the number of food trucks on campus.
How should faculty respond if a student becomes sick or does not want to wear a mask?
Rafael L. Bras: If a student becomes sick or tests positive the protocol is for them to report it to Stamps Health Services. The issue of wearing face coverings in the classroom is indeed a complicated one. We have all indications that it would be beneficial to wear one. The best way to deal with someone who does not want to wear a face covering is to bring it to the attention of the dean of students, John Stein. Do not get into a classroom confrontation.
What will happen with Georgia Tech’s sports teams?
Cabrera: Our basketball and football teams are gradually coming back to campus. What is not clear is what will happen with competition. We’ve been having discussions at the ACC level. We’re setting up protocols because football and basketball are contact sports. Maintaining distance is impossible when playing sports.
We also have to decide what will happen inside the arenas. It is likely that we will have to cap the number of people allowed in the stands. Everything is up in the air right now. We will start practicing, but we don’t know how the season will look.
Key Takeaways of the Fall Plan
- The fall academic calendar will be compressed to discourage travel, but students will have the same number of contact days with instructors. Fall classes begin Aug. 17, and there will not be a two-day fall break. Fall instruction will end by Thanksgiving break.
- Classes will be held in one of five delivery modes, ranging from a traditional format where physical distancing is viable to a variety of hybrid options leveraging online technology. Certain classes will be prioritized for in-person delivery: lab classes, group project classes, senior design classes, small discussion classes, and classes requiring interaction with physical projects and equipment in most sessions. Details about which specific courses will be taught via which mode of instruction are being reviewed.
- All study abroad, international internships, exchange programs, and any Georgia Tech-sponsored international curricular and co-curricular travel programs for Fall 2020 are canceled. The Georgia Tech-Lorraine and Georgia Tech-Shenzhen campuses will welcome students on Aug. 31 and Aug. 17, respectively.
- Georgia Tech will retrain staff, adopt new cleaning methods, and redirect select operations to provide more time for cleaning and disinfection. Signage will be installed to encourage best practices regarding personal hygiene and the movement of people through campus spaces. Other precautions will include upgraded air filtration systems, workspace modifications, and staggered scheduling for on-campus community members. Offices, classrooms, labs, and other spaces will be modified to facilitate physical distancing and enable cleaning and disinfection protocols.
- Georgia Tech will continue to encourage teleworking, split shifts, staggered shifts, and other measures that promote physical distancing. Those who can work remotely should continue to do so to the extent that teleworking does not affect the Institute’s ability to serve students.
- All members of the community are asked to administer the Covid-19 Daily Self-Screening Questions before coming to campus or leaving their residence. Thermal screening will be deployed in strategic locations. When any member of the Tech community tests positive for or is diagnosed with Covid-19, the Institute will follow the guidance of the GDPH and will ensure that students in isolation or quarantine continue to receive dining, health, and academic services.
- Georgia Tech will centrally manage the acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and provide reusable cloth face coverings to the community before the semester begins. During the fall semester, members of the Tech community are strongly encouraged to wear a cloth face covering on campus.
- In Housing and Residence Life, all triple and quadruple room occupancy will be eliminated for Fall 2020. Tech will work to maximize the number of single occupancy options available.
- Dining facilities will eliminate salad bars, buffets, and soup stations. Grab-and-go options will be provided, and dining hall staff will serve all food that is not prepackaged. Seating capacity of each dining hall will be reduced, and the number of standalone market stands, food carts, and food carts will be increased to encourage physical distancing.
- Campus event spaces will operate with reduced capacity and physical distancing practices. All visitors and attendees at campus events will be expected to follow Georgia Tech’s health and safety guidelines.
- Given the uncertainty of Covid-19, the Institute has developed contingency plans that respond to multiple scenarios as outlined by the USG. Additionally, Tech has developed an Institute-wide plan for transitioning operations to remote delivery in case of illness or in the event pandemic conditions worsen.
- At the start of the fall semester, the Institute will continue to prioritize research requiring campus access. Research activities on hold during the summer will begin to resume. The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has outlined a plan to increase on-site presence over the course of the summer. GTRI anticipates bringing 75% or more of its workforce on-site by the end of the summer.