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Wash U Details How It Will Bring Students Back To Campus

Two students walk down the long stairwell in front of Brookings Administration Building at Washington University in St. Louis. (photo taken March 19, 2020)
File photo / Bill Greenblatt
Washington University plans to reopen to students this fall, with most classes beginning Sept. 14.

Washington University has detailed how it will resume in-person learning this fall, as the pandemic continues to worsen around its red-stone campus.

The private school in St. Louis put out detailed plans Friday for how students will return to campus, if they want to, and what measures are being put in place to try to keep them and its staff healthy.

Webster University also released more details Friday about how it plans to bring students back to campus.

Wash U pushed the start of most classes back to Sept. 14 and is giving students the chance to take all courses online from home. For those who decide to return, they’ll be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival.

Mask-wearing and other physical distancing rules will be implemented. Virtual instruction will replace lecture halls for students on campus. The biggest impact of health measures will be on residential life.

Wash U is keeping dorms at just 65% capacity by placing freshmen and sophomores in single rooms. Most older students will have to look off campus.

“Housing has presented one of the largest challenges for us,” said Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor of student affairs.

Senior Stephanie Achoa had heard rumors there wouldn’t be housing for upperclassmen, but the official word Friday morning sent her and her potential roommates into a frantic rush for a new home.

Achoa, 21, started calling and emailing landlords from her boyfriend’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she’s spent part of her time since campus closed in March.

“I have called some people and they say, ‘yeah, we already rented everything out this morning. Sorry,’” she said.

Wash U has rented out more than 400 rooms in hotels and apartment buildings near campus to help meet demand. The school will also make exceptions for students with special circumstances.

Wash U said in early summer it would welcome students back in the fall, as did many other institutions in the region.

But the pandemic has worsened here and in other parts of the country since then, and many colleges and universities are scrapping previous plans. Around the country, several large universities, and entire public systems, have said they won’t reopen campuses for the fall term.

Other universities in the area are sticking with plans to reopen campus. Those include St. Louis University, Harris-Stowe State University and Lindenwood University.

Not all those schools will have the capability to do their own rapid COVID-19 testing as Wash U will.

One element that will be harder for Wash U to control: student behavior off-campus. At parties and social affairs, for example, dozens of students might cram into fraternity basements to party. This is a major variable in how well any in-person academic year will go.

“That is indeed the greatest challenge facing almost every college and university that's trying to develop an in-person strategy,” Wild said.

Wash U will be rolling out a large public health media campaign, Wild said, encouraging students to behave during the pandemic.

“This is going to require a lot of community buy-in for this to be successful,” he said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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