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‘Most things will look more like pre-COVID’: Miami plans for fall semester

Miami University’s COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines are still a work in progress as thousands of students move back into residence halls, apartments and houses this fall.

Miami announced new mask guidelines Aug. 5, requiring all faculty, students and staff to wear a face covering indoors regardless of vaccination status. The announcement came after several other Ohio universities implemented the same policy on their campuses.

On Aug. 5, Miami President Greg Crawford wrote in an email to the Miami community that “face coverings, social distancing, and vaccination will likely remain a part of our experience for at least part of this fall.”

Still, many COVID-related restrictions in place during the 2020-2021 school year will not return this semester. 

Vaccines & testing

Miami is not requiring students, staff or faculty to receive the COVID vaccine, yet. But the university is strongly encouraging those who can get vaccinated to do so. Otherwise, students who are not vaccinated or have not uploaded documentation of at least one dose of the vaccine will be required to submit to regular testing.

Jessica Rivinius, director of news and media relations, said Miami is not requiring the vaccine because it is still under emergency use authorization through the FDA and is not fully approved. 

“Overall, we want to encourage our entire university community to get vaccinated, but at this time we’ve decided not to require vaccines,” Rivinius said. “We work closely with the Inter-University Council and if [the vaccine requirement] were to change, we [would] notify the university community immediately, so it’s just one of those ongoing things.”

Vaccines are being offered to students, faculty and staff throughout the semester for free at the Student Health Services building and at the Armstrong Student Center.

Armstrong will have a drop-in vaccination clinic where students can get their shot without scheduling an appointment.

Students who upload their vaccination records are entered into Miami’s vaccine incentive program Your Shot to Win for a chance to win prizes such as bookstore gift cards, a laptop and a tuition credit for one semester. 

Staff members who submit information about their vaccination status will receive two days of bonus leave to use in lieu of vacation over winter break.

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Rivinius said the university hopes the incentive program will drive the Miami community to get vaccinated.

“We are hoping [the program] further incentivizes people who were on the fence or just hadn’t gotten around to it to just go ahead and get vaccinated,” Rivinius said. “We think vaccination [is] the most effective way to fight COVID.”

Miami, following CDC recommendations, is also encouraging students, faculty or staff who travel to the U.S. from international travel, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested within 3-5 days after travel. Unvaccinated individuals who traveled internationally are also encouraged to self-quarantine for 7 days after travel.

Individuals who have received at least one dose of a two-dose COVID vaccine that is not approved by the FDA or WHO must also quarantine after international travel, as Miami is not recognizing vaccines not authorized by the FDA or WHO. Receiving a vaccine after international travel to the U.S. does not exempt individuals from protocol recommendations. 

COVID-19 tests will be given at the Health Services building. Students who have uploaded their vaccination records to MedProctor or have shown proof of a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days are exempt from testing.

At-home antigen tests will also be available for students at various locations on campus, including Armstrong Student Center and King Library.

Move-in & residence halls

Last year, move-in for underclassmen took place over the course of one week to allow for social distancing. This year, it took place over two days, beginning Aug. 19. Upperclassmen and student organizations signed up to help students move in, a service that was not available last year.

Any students that did not upload their vaccination records were required to go to Millett Hall before arriving at their residence hall to get tested or show proof of vaccination or a positive COVID test within the last 90 days. Students could also opt to get the first dose of their vaccine at Millett during move-in.

Students who were vaccinated and moving onto campus could forgo move-in testing and go directly to their residence hall to move in as long as they uploaded their vaccine records to MedProctor.

Robert Abowitz, associate director of residence life, said Miami will continue to keep an eye on COVID in the residence halls and try to minimize cases.

“Based on testing, we are likely to continue to have the color coding of the residence halls,” Abowitz said, “so that we can publicly acknowledge where we see outbreaks, and we can react so we can reduce those outbreaks.”

Along with the color-coding system, which identifies how many students in a residence hall have tested positive for COVID-19, Miami will also set aside space for on-campus students to isolate or quarantine. It hasn’t been confirmed which buildings will be used.

Abowitz said he is anticipating full occupancy in the residence halls, compared to only 60% occupancy in the 2020-2021 school year.

The Office of Residence Life is planning to hold more events in person, such as corridor meetings, the fire safety fair and other hall programs.

“Most things will look more like pre-COVID than they [did] last year,” Abowitz said.

COVID guidelines in the residence halls will follow what’s set by Miami University, Butler County Health Department and the CDC.

Masks will be required in public areas of residence halls, however, there will not be any capacity limits for public areas or student rooms.

Dining

Dining halls will also return to full capacity, according to an email sent to students by Campus Services on Aug. 6. Other than that, most aspects of dining halls will be similar to the past school year.

“All commons locations will have full seating capacity,” the email read, “and food will be served in compostable, to-go containers at the start of school with the hopes to return to china plates and cutlery as the semester progresses.”

Along with using to-go containers, dining halls will also be closed for portions of the day. Unlike last year, however, they will operate on a staggered schedule. On weekdays, there will always be at least one dining hall open. 

Dining hall hours of operation can be found on the dining services website.

“Unemployment, supply chain, product availability and operational changes in the food and beverage industry are challenges seen nationwide and are affecting us,” the email read.

According to the dining services website, Cafe Lux will be open this fall, but Bell Tower Commons will remain closed.

Student life

As Miami begins a new semester, Abowitz said outreach to sophomores, who haven’t had the normal college experience yet, is important.

“There’s a small committee right now that is planning the ‘second-year surge,’” Abowitz said. “These will be events and programs directed towards second-year students. I think we're going to be doing some encouraging of second-year students to attend some of what we consider the traditional first-year programs.”

Mega Fair is scheduled to take place in person on Sunday, Aug. 29. Art After Dark, another popular event, will return as well.

Armstrong Student Center will take event reservations for the fall semester with no capacity limits. Study rooms in Armstrong also no longer have capacity limits, and all the furniture in Armstrong’s Shade Family Room has returned.

Katie Wilson, director of Armstrong, said she is excited to have more students and events in Armstrong this year.

“We're looking forward to seeing a more vibrant student center next semester and having everybody back and creating the kind of Miami experience that we're known for,” Wilson said.

Kimberly Vance, director of Student Activities and Fraternity and Sorority Life, said even though student organizations are able to host meetings and events indoors with masks, they are encouraging large-scale events to be held outside when possible.

“What we've advised organizations to do is, yes, you can host an event … and if that is an event that will work outside, where people can naturally distance from each other a little bit or they're just not all closed up in a room — if you can do your event that way, great,” Vance said. “It's a recommendation, it's not a requirement.”

Vance said she plans to send out an email to student organization leaders so that they can stay up to date and plan their meetings and events this fall.

“We know that what we're probably dealing with is, we went so long without typical functions of student organizations, that there's an inevitable loss of information on how to do certain things,” Vance said. “So we're trying to be very diligent and deliberate on creating some field workshops and other things that we probably normally wouldn't have to bring student leaders up to speed.”

Vance said the only restriction student organizations need to worry about is the indoor mask requirement for right now.

Vance also noted that guidelines for fraternities and sororities largely depend upon national chapter rules, as well as the City of Oxford’s decision on mask mandates and/or gathering limits.

As student organizations return to meeting in-person, Wilson thinks it’s important to ease into it and to accommodate those who may not be comfortable being back in-person yet.

“Maybe you set up chairs three feet apart instead of right next to each other, just giving people a little flexibility to create six feet around them if they need to do that in order to keep compliant with the university guidelines of maintaining distance indoors if you’re unvaccinated,” Wilson said. “Just giving people that option as they transition back into going to events.”

As shown by the return of masks while indoors, COVID-19 is unpredictable, and all current policies are subject to change.

“If the university changes requirements, or the CDC or Butler County, then we could possibly have to adapt accordingly,” Wilson said. “Be ready to be flexible if we need to change what the parameters are.”

All of Miami’s COVID-19 policies can be found here.

@cosettegunter

guntercr@miamioh.edu 

@nwlexi

whitehan@miamioh.edu

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