The process of resuming on-campus operations will take place over four flexible phases, associate vice president for risk and compliance Elliot Young said. The expectation, as President Richard Myers and Provost Taber previously indicated, is that classes will be on campus in some capacity for the fall.
“I think we all know this is very unpredictable, and it’s hard to give any kind of timelines,” Young said. “We can have some level of normal operations on campus — assuming now that we don’t go backwards.”
The protocol — which will comply with federal, state and local guidelines at every point — is called the Framework for Reawakening K-State.
“We like the phrase ‘reawakening’ because we feel like the university is still open, it’s just a limited capacity, limited operations, and we’re just kind of trying to wake things up again,” Young said. “So we’re looking at a phased approach to reawakening the university, very gradually, very carefully.”
Considering the institutional size and population concentration associated with the university, Young said there are additional considerations that need to be made.
The first part of the framework began with the initial decision to limit on-campus operations. Called the Safer At Home order, this phase did not permit mass gatherings of any kind, recommended people wear masks in public and involved the increase of COVID-19 testing abilities.
“The real fear here is that if we rush this or if we try too hard to get everything back to normal, we could find ourselves in a bad situation again,” Young said. “So we have to do this slowly.”
If a new statewide stay-at-home order is put in place, progress on the protocols will stop. Backtracking is possible at all phases, Young said.
Phase 1 of the reawakening framework could not begin until testing was widespread, statewide stay-at-home orders expired, county specific orders were instituted and the area healthcare system could manage a possible influx of COVID-19 patients. This phase began officially when Riley County established its Restricted Movement order on Monday, Young said.
During this phases, social distancing is still necessary, gatherings of 10 or fewer are permitted, masks are still recommended and working from home is still required of individuals who are able.
To move on to the next phase, local transmission must remain steady or be declining.
K-State plans for a tentative in-person fall semester with limitations, president and provost say
Phase 2 requires social distancing, limits gathering sizes to 30 individuals and recommends the usage of face masks in public. Remote work is expected. High risk individuals are expected to restrict activities as much as possible.
Progressing to the next phase requires local transmission to remain steady or decline.
Phase 3 is the last formal stage of the framework. Some social distancing will still be required and masks are recommended when these criteria cannot be met. Gatherings can have up to 90 people and remote work is still expected. Employees who plan to return to in-person work are required to complete specific public health trainings.
For phase out to begin, a vaccine must be available or some kind of treatment must be identified, Young said. Once this threshold is met, social distancing will not be required and there won’t be formal limitations on movement. Some larger gatherings will be permitted. This is the first phase that high-risk individuals are not formally recommended to restrict movement.
This is the “return to normal phase,” Young said.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re gonna get all the way back exactly the way things were before, but pretty close,” Young said.
Per the Framework for Reawakening K-State protocol, more specifics about student life activities and operations as well as resumption of research will be made available later. Additional considerations will need to be made for Athletics, K-State Libraries, Extension, on-campus teaching and other on-campus operations.
Enforcement and specific protocols will be designed by departments, but will have to fall in line with the criterion set forward by the university at each stage, Young said.
Despite all the uncertainty, one thing hasn’t changed, Young said.
“From the very beginning of this whole crisis, the number one principle that we’ve been operating under is that the health and safety of the community is the most important thing,” Young said.