Board approves UO's comprehensive COVID-19 plan

The University of Oregon Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive 58-page plan to safely operate the university during the coronavirus pandemic Thursday.

Posted: Aug 27, 2020 5:09 PM
Updated: Aug 27, 2020 7:01 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- The University of Oregon Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive 58-page plan to safely operate the university during the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday. 

Gov. Kate Brown's executive orders required universities to submit written plans describing how they would comply with Oregon Health Authority guidelines by Sept. 1 after being approved by their governing boards.

While the university announced that the fall term would largely be held remotely Wednesday, this plan is more broad and applies to how in-person learning will be handled when it returns.

The plan passed 13-1, with student member Katherine Wishnia opposed, voicing concerns about allowing students to live in the residence halls.

The plan includes details about retrofitting classrooms for physical distancing, cleaning protocols, training for faculty and staff, among other efforts.

Officials said the plan is designed to monitor health indicators and reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading by instituting contact tracing, testing and isolation protocols and enforcing behavioral expectations in the university community.

"We have de-densified the campus and are creating controlled environments on campus. Will we succeed? I don't know 100 percent. We cannot guarantee anything at this time, but we are doing the best practices we can," said Department of Biology Provost Patrick Phillips.

An Alert Level system is one element of the plan, controlling the amount of in-person learning and what spaces will be open based on a variety of criteria county-wide and on campus.

For instance, the high alert level would be in place if increased cases and community spread were present and would mean mostly online classes. The low alert level the university is calling "the new normal" would be active if cases are rare and transmission is controlled, allowing for a mix of in-person and online learning and increased density in labs.

Officials said that certain indicators could push the alert level up or down, especially county-wide prevalence.

Postdoctoral researcher Victor Lewis told KEZI 9 News he believes science-based approaches are the best way to protect the UO community.

"I'm hoping that people take a logical scientific approach to this. It's OK to be cautiously optimistic and hope that things work in your favor but be ready to pivot if they don't," he said.

A foundation of contact tracing and coronavirus testing will allow the university to assess the potential spread of the virus in the community throughout the year. 

A certified testing lab in Pacific Hall will run tests. On Sept. 1, university officials expect the lab will be able to process a maximum of 375 tests each day. Depending on various factors, they may be able to process up to 6,000 by mid-November.

Officials said the plan will change as state guidance evolves. Amendments will be reviewed at each meeting of the Board of Trustees.

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