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KU will return to in-person classes as planned, provost says

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Article updated at 8:43 p.m. Monday:

The University of Kansas will stick with plans to bring students back to campus next week for the spring semester, the administration announced Monday, as Douglas County continues to face record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases.

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Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor, said in a message to campus Monday that she shares concerns about the “changing landscape of the pandemic.” However, she wrote that “At the same time, I know we are far better prepared for what may come than ever before.”

Some measures in place will include mandatory masking in campus buildings (including Allen Fieldhouse, under the emergency Douglas County health order); temporary shifts to remote instruction if instructors who are able to teach must be isolated; and two-week periods of remote settings for courses if attendance drops below 25% for a week, according to the message.

In the meantime, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health reported 310 new COVID-19 cases since Friday. The rolling 14-day average number of new cases per day rose to 214.64 — a 51% increase over Friday’s average — and test positivity sat at 19.3%, another record high.

Click here to see the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence, the Lawrence school district, and Douglas County on the Times’ dashboard.

Because of the virulent conditions that the omicron variant of COVID presents, KU’s mask policy is also different from previous semesters, according to Bichelmeyer’s message.

“Instructors and presenters, with the exception of those in the theatre or other performing arts, must wear masks at all times in the classrooms, including when speaking and presenting.” Department leaders can request clear masks and Powered Air Purifying Respirators for situations where audience members need visual cues from presenters.

Bichelmeyer also wrote that “almost all” campus common spaces, such as classrooms, conference rooms and office suites, have been equipped with air filtration units.

The university in December suspended its enforcement of a vaccination mandate for all employees and student employees based on a federal injunction, but the chancellor said in that announcement that 83% of Lawrence and Edwards campus employees had uploaded documentation confirming they are fully vaccinated, and staff believed the actual number was higher than that.

“I encourage everyone who hasn’t been boosted or vaccinated to do so as soon as possible,” Bichelmeyer wrote. “We continue to make it safe, easy and secure for students and employees to get vaccinated through Watkins Health Services if they haven’t already done so.”

Some other notes from the message:

• Bichelmeyer asked that instructors build flexibility into their course structure to accommodate illnesses and absences as needed.

• “Human Resource Management will soon be sending guidance to supervisors on how they should address staffing shortages should they occur. Supervisors and unit leaders should also re-examine hybrid or remote-work settings for temporary use until the current spike has passed, or in an ongoing manner if the position is not required to be in person.”

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• Instructors aren’t obligated to construct online versions of in-person courses for students whose circumstances place them at higher risk for COVID-19. “Students were previously advised they should enroll in courses that are offered in the format they need.”

“Our guidance may change as the situation evolves,” Bichelmeyer wrote. “As in the past, I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to balance the various needs of our community members. We’ve done this before, and shown we can adapt to unique or new circumstances.”

Classes are set to resume Jan. 18. The university is keeping its Protect KU page up to date with the latest campus guidelines.

Haskell Indian Nations University announced Monday that its classes will also resume Jan. 18 as planned, but at least the first three weeks will be online only. Haskell has required all students and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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See the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence and Douglas County on The Lawrence Times’ stat dashboard at this link.

Find out where you can get the free COVID-19 vaccine at this link.

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