Texas A&M Leaders Discuss Fall Semester During Virtual Town Hall
The beginning of the fall semester will be “one of the most unique times” to return to school, Texas A&M University Student Body President Eric Mendoza said during a recent Student Government Association virtual town hall discussion.
It’s a time of excitement and uncertainty, Mendoza said, and a critical opportunity for Aggies to exhibit the university’s core values both on and off campus to ensure protection of the community during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Yes, we know this semester will look different. It already does,” Mendoza said at Wednesday’s recording at the KAMU TV-FM studios. “But whether you’re a graduating senior, an incoming freshman or somewhere in between, we’re relying on your buy-in and your help to make this semester possible and to make this semester what you want it to be.”
That means wearing face coverings, getting tested if one is showing symptoms of COVID-19, and taking all precautions and guidance seriously. The four administrators who joined Mendoza for the Facebook Live discussion emphasized this message as the university prepares for students, faculty and staff to return to campus for the start of the fall semester on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Provost and Executive Vice President Carol A. Fierke said most students plan on attending classes in person, and about 24 percent have indicated they will join remotely.
University officials will continue to monitor local COVID-19 case numbers, hospital capacity and many more factors throughout the semester, Fierke said. While spikes in positive cases are expected, she said officials will keep an eye on how fast the positivity rate increases and whether there are any hot spots on campus. A group that meets weekly will make recommendations to the university president’s leadership team based on this information regarding potential changes to the reopening plans.
Dr. Martha Dannenbaum, director of Student Health Services, said the inevitable increase in COVID-19 cases with the increase of activity shouldn’t be a cause for panic – the community just needs to prepare itself as best as it can.
To that end, free testing is available for students, faculty and staff. Dannenbaum said the self-administered mouth swab tests will be taken in a large negative pressure medical tent in the Student Health Services parking lot. The tent allows for both mass testing and separation of patients with respiratory symptoms from the rest of the population, she said.
The university is not asking students to be tested before returning to campus, but certain labs and work areas on campus may have different requirements. Students, faculty and staff are also encouraged to participate in a random sampling program being developed through the School of Public Health to provide a picture of the general condition across campus.
A large portion of the student population will arrive in Aggieland this weekend, with move-in starting Saturday. A staggered approach, clear areas for ingress and egress and a limit of two guests to help with move-in will allow for greater physical distancing this year.
Students who do test positive for COVID-19 or need to self-isolate for 14 days will first be asked to return home, if possible. Otherwise, hundreds of spaces are set aside on campus for students to self-isolate and quarantine, said Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel J. Pugh.
In addition to a stricter guest policy in dorms, Pugh said dining on campus will also look a bit different. All dining halls will have take-out options, and there will be a limit on the number of people allowed to dine-in at a time. Students are asked to wear face coverings and maintain physical distancing while waiting in lines. Pugh said the same guidelines apply to the bookstore.
Pugh asks that Aggies be kind to one another and remind others to wear a face covering inside buildings and outside when physical distancing of six feet is not possible. Wearing a face covering to keep others safe is an act of selfless service, he said.
All students have the option to attend class remotely if they do not wish to wear a face covering. This option is encouraged for students who feel sick or fear they have been exposed to the virus. Any course can be joined remotely, and all classrooms are equipped with cameras and microphones to facilitate online learning.
Fierke said markers indicating where students should sit, increased airflow in classrooms, Plexiglas shields for faculty to stand behind, and the use of athletic facilities and other large spaces on campus to allow for physical distancing are among the measures being taken to help keep students safe during in-person learning.
Students will be asked to leave a classroom if they refuse to wear a face covering. Those who refuse to do so may be subject to a student conduct violation, Fierke said.
Similarly, Athletic Director Ross Bjork said face coverings will be required to attend football games at Kyle Field.
Texas A&M intends to play with a stadium capacity of 50 percent under Gov. Greg Abbott’s current restrictions. Bjork said students are also the top priority — student sports passes are still on sale.
He said the stadium plan will be released once safety protocols and opponents are finalized in the coming days.
The full discussion is available to view on Texas A&M’s Facebook page.
To keep up with the university’s guidance on the pandemic, follow the COVID-19 section of the school’s website.