University administrators discuss COVID-19 and plans for Spring 2021 semester

In a town hall with Eastern Kentucky University employees on Dec. 3, university administrators detailed how the Fall 2020 semester unfolded and what the campus community can expect for the Spring 2021 semester as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

According to the dean of the College of Letters, Arts, & Social Sciences, Sara Zeigler, a majority of classes were taught in a traditional setting during the fall semester (1,460). Fall 2019 saw 2,766 classes taught in a traditional setting.

Zeigler said that 1,171 classes were taught online during the fall semester. A total of 1,076 classes used the hybrid method and 218 classes used a web-blended method.

Looking ahead to the Spring 2021 semester, Zeigler announced that 45.13 percent of classes will be either traditional, synchronous web-blended, synchronous online or hybrid. There will be 790 traditional classes, 342 web-blended (asynchronous), 107 web-blended (synchronous), 915 online (asynchronous), 512 online (synchronous) and 351 hybrid. Web-blended synchronous learning has in-person classroom instruction, and online synchronous classes will conduct real-time meetings. 

“You will see that faculty moved away from the hybrid mode, finding that student attendance was problematic,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler said that the faculty has been doing whatever they can to be more flexible and accommodating to students’ schedules and academic needs.

The Student Government Association also made a plea to the Faculty Senate to allow more synchronous activities and courses, especially for first and second-year students.

“I do believe that we have an environment in which instruction can take place face-to-face in a healthy and reasonably safe way,” said President David McFaddin. 

Bryan Makinen, executive director of Public Safety, said that the campus community has been responsive to the efforts to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

The EKU contact tracing team processed 1,595 reports from Aug. 25 - Nov. 24.

“Of the public institutions and private institutions in Kentucky, EKU was the only institution that developed our own trained contact tracing group,” McFaddin said. “This was a substantial investment on the institution's part. There were some outstanding individuals who dedicated countless hours to this work and we are all very grateful for the work that they did. We are very hopeful that we will have a very strong contingency of contact tracers who will be ready to go when we return in January.”  

EKU entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Madison County Health Department so the 19 contact tracers were able to receive the proper training. McFaddin said one reason EKU had a lower COVID-19 rate was because of the contact tracing team and the university did not have to solely rely on the health department to conduct the contact tracing like many other universities in the state had to do. 

According to Makinen, Student Health Services administered 275 COVID-19 tests this semester. Out of the 275 tests conducted on campus, 54 came back positive, 217 were negative and four were deemed inconclusive.

As of Dec. 3, the EKU COVID-19 dashboard has reported 455 total cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1. Currently, 43 cases are active while 410 people have recovered. Custodial services performed COVID-19 cleaning of all active classrooms, the library, and common areas nightly.

The pandemic has prompted a shift from traditional in-person learning, resulting in challenges to find the proper space around campus for smaller and socially distanced classrooms.

Despite the hurdle of ensuring students could remain socially distant while learning in person, Makinen said that there have been zero cases of transmission both within the classroom environment and within university structured student organization settings. He also stated that there has been a low positivity rate with the EKU Athletics Department. Student-athletes are tested multiple times a week.

“When we think about navigating this pandemic, I promise you that the first thing we think about is not finances, it is not politics, it is not anything other than the people and the great value that you have to this institution,” McFaddin said.

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