COVID-19 and UNO: Your questions answered

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Kamrin Baker
EDITOR IN CHIEF

Photo courtesy of CDC/graphic by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

With the rapidly evolving news of campus operations and travel policies as they relate to the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), many students are left with questions about the remainder of the spring semester. The Gateway will work to update this article with answers to frequently asked questions. If you have a question that you would like us to investigate, please comment below or email editorinchief@unothegateway.com.

In the meantime, please visit UNO’s COVID-19 webpage for more information and the latest announcements.

Current as of March 12 at 9:20 p.m.

What is the university’s plan for on-campus housing in the event that classes are moved to a digital learning environment?

“At the present time, our campuses will remain open to serve all those who rely on our services, such as health and counseling services, dining services, residence halls, and available campus study spaces. We encourage students residing on campus to return to their place of permanent residence because there are advantages for social distancing,” a UNO spokesperson said.

“For those students living on campus who are not able to go home or who have work or other commitments in Omaha, will continue to support our students in residence halls and dining facilities where appropriate social distancing and enhanced preventative public health and hygiene measures will be actively encouraged. The availability of campus facilities and services are subject to change as circumstances dictate.”

How will student workers be affected if the university closes or is impacted by remote learning?

“Student workers should report as scheduled at this time,” a UNO spokesperson said. “This also applies to graduate assistants.”

Will the health clinic on campus be able to administer COVID-19 tests in the event that the virus reaches campus?

“We encourage anyone who has reason to believe they may have contracted COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms to contact the Douglas County Health Department at 402.444.3400 to determine the proper next steps,” a UNO spokesperson said.

Will all facilities be closed, or will place like the library and health clinic remain open for students?

“It is important to note that the university will not be closed; rather the goal is to reduce occupancy across campus,” a UNO spokesperson said. “As stated, at the present time, our campuses will remain open to serve all those who rely on our services, such as health and counseling services, dining services, residence halls, and available campus study spaces. The availability of campus facilities and services are subject to change as circumstances dictate. In addition, we encourage appropriate social distancing and preventative public health and hygiene measures. Note that any events or gatherings of more than 20 individuals will not be permitted.”

What is the projected timeline of this plan? What would be the criteria for the university to be fully operational once again?

“Classes will continue as normal through Friday, March 13, 2020. Spring Break for UNO will begin earlier, on Saturday, March 14th, and will extend through Sunday, March 29th. Classes will not be in session March 16-20. Effective Monday, March 30, UNO will conduct all classes in remote learning mode to enable students to continue their academic coursework uninterrupted for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester,” a UNO spokesperson said.

“University leadership continues to closely monitor the latest developments regarding the spread of COVID-19 and will coordinate with public health and government officials as well as the University of Nebraska system to make any decisions regarding a return to normal operations. At this time, there is no timeline or criteria set for when this would take place.”

How does COVID-19 impact the upcoming commencement ceremonies on May 8?

“Spring 2020 Commencement ceremonies scheduled for Friday, May 8 have been suspended at this time,” a UNO spokesperson said. “We understand this is an important day for our students and the entire Maverick community. More information will be released as it becomes available.”

Dean of Student Success Cathy Pettid added that events are on a case-by-case basis. “Students who meet the graduation requirements in May will graduate, and we will figure out a way to celebrate our graduating students. When and where is in flex,” Pettid said.

What are some learning outcomes that may be affected by digital learning for students who require lab or studio work? Does UNO anticipate a financial impact on students?

“The university offers a wide variety of learning opportunities, including some that typically require hands-on access to specialized equipment or tools in a lab setting,” a UNO spokesperson said. “In these cases, faculty have been working with the Office of Digital Learning to develop ways to deliver these opportunities in an online format. During the period of remote learning, students without sufficient access to internet services, or without sufficient computing technology, may use the wireless internet on campus and may apply for a limited number of UNO laptops from the Office of Digital Learning. Additionally, campus computer clusters will be available, though with limitations on the occupancy of each room determined by capacity and overall safety.”

Will students with accessibility plans have sufficient services through the pivot to digital learning?

Jaci Lindburg, director of digital learning said her office is training faculty to use digital tools that can quickly and easily caption videos for online instruction. Tools (such as Canvas, Box, VidGrid and Zoom) go through accessibility review before being purchased by the university. Instructors are trained to design content using universal design for learning. “We are very committed to accessibility, and I feel good about where the campus is to make this pivot,” Lindburg said.

Would WiFi hotspots be a solution that the university might consider for those who do not have access to WiFi?

Lindburg said that the university intends to maximize the number of laptops available and emphasized that connectivity will remain strong on campus. “Throughout the community, there are a number of places that provide public WiFi,” Lindburg said. “We certainly know that may or may not be a strategy, but I will take your feedback as far as hot spots are concerned. It’s not something we are currently using, but will look into.”

When will the laptops be available for those who apply to check them out through UNO?

Lindburg said now that applications are live for students to seek technology help, the university will begin the work of preparing those laptops to disperse and we will contact the students who have signed up through that application. Inventory is limited.

Can professors schedule any assignments to be due over the extended spring break?

According to Pettid, this extended spring break is a two-week break for all courses. “The guidance that is being provided is that course activity would not continue in that window,” Pettid said.

What about students who need to use special software or equipment for classes?

Pettid said students may come to campus to use software as a choice, other times they will need to come into labs because it is the only option for course work. “Social distancing will require everyone to rethink what they’re doing,” Pettid said. “There is not a specific plan at this time, but it is on the radar.”

What is the protocol for advising offices at this time?

Pettid said there will be access to academic advisors. The university is hoping to use MavTrack to leverage advising through phone calls or Zoom.

Will student grades be negatively impacted by faculty’s inability to use technology?

“I anticipate that you will continue forward doing much of the same work you have done before,” Lindburg said. “We are empowering instructors to carry out courses with objectives and goals they had to begin with.”

Will the testing center still be open for students taking standardized tests?

Lindburg said there are tools that replicate the testing experience and can be deployed digitally. It’s a matter of getting the university into that forum instead of using the testing center.

Will students be refunded for parking passes?

Pettid said the university is currently reevaluating situations with student fees, but that is something that is under consideration.

Will UNO be able to leverage its relationship with UNMC to provide affordable or free testing for students who believe they have COVID-19?

Pettid said UNO is “thankful for close relationship with UNMC.” The university is working closely with the Douglas County Health Department, and finances will not be a barrier to someone who truly needs that test. “We are working closely with all of our partners to make sure folks are getting the services they need,” Pettid said.

Can you explain the role of public safety at this time?

Public Safety is considered an essential office and will continue their work on campus, according to Pettid.

Is parking going to be open during this time?

Pettid said to check the UNO COVID-19 Updates webpage in a couple days to make sure we have language in effect that clarifies parking. “Typically on spring break, it’s open parking, we will clarify if that will be extended,” Pettid said.

Will there be distance education fees for this pivot to digital learning?

“Delivering online education is a fully accredited program that has been part of our platform here for a while now,” Lindburg said. “You will continue to be assessed what you are registered for even though we are using a different system. It will still be considered the same course you signed up for. With this pivot to remote teaching and learning, the expectation is that we have continuous delivery to offer the course you are in now.”

Will there be an option to provide financial support for students who are unable to go to work on campus?

“There are hardship funds for students who are in immediate need,” Pettid said. “This is a very important topic of discussion.” Students can directly contact Pettid by calling 402-553-3523 (office) or 402-699-2255 (cell phone, for personal issues).

Will students who move off campus be reimbursed for their housing fees?

“Right now, we are focused on health and safety,” Pettid said. Helping students who can move off campus is the main priority, and these financial questions will be addressed soon, according to Pettid.

Will shuttles still be operating for students who do not have a car or are worried about transportation?

“The shuttle system is another ongoing conversation,” Pettid said. “Transportation needs to continue for students, so I’m sure in some modified capacity it will be continued, but we will have a better answer for you soon.”

Rumors going around that a student who has been exposed to COVID-19 was in H&K. Can you speak to that?

“There was a major event in Fremont, and a UNO student was in attendance at the Special Olympics. Many students are calling in to say they are self-quarantining and asking questions because they were at that event. We have close consultation with the Douglas County Health Department,” Pettid said. “If you know someone who has been asked to self-quarantine, that means they may have come in contact with the virus. The vast majority of people asked to voluntarily self-quarantine are asymptomatic. If you have not been asked to self-quarantine by Douglas County, you can go about your business as usual. It was likely a second, third or fourth-hand exposure with student in H&K. We cleaned that room out of an abundance of caution.”

What is going to be done to keep campus safe for those who will be here? Will custodial staff members be paid overtime and how will they be kept healthy?

“Our custodial staff works in various shifts, and we are earnestly trying to have great communication with them,” Pettid said. Custodial staff are receiving training, following CDC and Douglas County suggestions for cleaning, according to Pettid.

What about summer classes? Will the distancing factor still be in place by then?

According to a spokesperson from UNO, the current procedures in place are until the end of the semester. The risk level will be reevaluated for the summer.

Will the Maverick Food Pantry be available to students?

Yes, it will be accessible. There will be a new request form created with information that will go live shortly. There will be options that consider dietary restrictions, according to Pettid.

What about student agencies like Queer & Trans Services and the Women’s and Gender Equity Center?

The strategic plan for QTS, according to Torie Walenz is as follows:
-Office will be closed until end of semester
-Events will be cancelled, postponed or hosted digitally over Zoom
-Social support groups will be hosted via Discord (app and online service) that is facilitated by a board member or usual facilitators

The strategic plan for the WGEC, according to Destinie Freeman is as follows:
-Events will be cancelled or held on online forums
-Office will only be open for people to access tampons, pads, pregnancy tests. Otherwise, please keep out of the office.

Who can students contact with any remaining questions?

Contact Cathy Pettid directly by calling 402-554-3523 or visit UNO’s COVID-19 Updates webpage by clicking here.

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