College of Charleston plans changes to fall semester because of COVID-19

College of Charleston plans changes to fall semester because of COVID-19
The maximum occupancy of classrooms will likely be severely reduced to allow for 30 to 40 percent capacity, with some seats being marked as unusable in order to maintain social distancing. (Source: Live 5/File)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The College of Charleston is still expecting to welcome students back to campus this fall, but it should be far from a typical semester.

During a virtual Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday afternoon, college officials announced preliminary details of the downtown Charleston school’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

Paul Patrick, the Chief of Staff of President Andrew Hsu, stated that students who do not feel comfortable returning to campus will still be able to continue their education entirely remotely, but that the vast majority of classes will consist of a mixture of in-person and online instruction.

Staff and students who return to the school will need to obey social distancing guidelines and wear a face covering when in public, with few exceptions such as working alone in an office. Patrick noted that the college’s idea is “no mask, no class” and that at least one reusable mask should be provided to each student and employee.

The maximum occupancy of classrooms will likely be severely reduced to allow for 30 to 40 percent capacity, with some seats being marked as unusable in order to maintain social distancing. Sanitation stations and sanitizing wipes will be installed in classrooms, as will cameras so that lectures can be observed remotely.

The plan calls for in-person activities that occur indoors to be limited to no more than 30 people, while outdoor gatherings should be limited to 50 people. The early stages of recruitment for fraternities and sororities will now take place virtually.

All students will soon be required to have a laptop, according to Patrick, who indicated that most students already have access to a device, but that the college will work with those who do not. This new policy will cause computer labs on campus to be phased out.

Although the fall semester’s beginning and end dates have not been changed, the college’s traditional fall break will not take place and students will not return for in-person classes after Thanksgiving in order to limit travel. More than 30 percent of the students at the College of Charleston come from outside South Carolina, according to the school’s website.

Those living on campus can expect significant changes, with the total occupancy of on-campus housing expected to hover around 70 percent in order to encourage social distancing. Residents will be assigned a time slot to move into their building between August 20 and 23. Once on campus, they might have to register for a specific time lot in order to access their laundry room. International students will need to quarantine for 14 days before even arriving at the college.

Just 27 percent of bedrooms in the open buildings will allow double occupancy and Patrick announced that approximately 2,400 beds should be available in total. Since this plan allows for 800 fewer beds than the amount that the college needs, first-year students will be prioritized for on-campus housing and there is a possibility that there might be a small financial incentive so some other students can find off-campus housing. This could potentially cause the college to forgo $3 million worth of revenue, according to Patrick.

No students will be assigned to the Buist Rivers Residence Hall since the college is reserving the building for students who need to be isolated for reasons such as possible COVID-19 exposure.

Meanwhile, for students who graduated from the College of Charleston in the spring, an in-person commencement ceremony is still tentatively scheduled to take place in October.

Dr. Robert Ball from the Medical University of South Carolina addressed the board during the meeting, stating that in general, many people have not been wearing masks during recent gatherings on Memorial Day and for graduation events.

“The trajectory of the current COVID pandemic is terrible, frankly,” Ball told the board. “Of all of the infectious diseases I’ve ever dealt with in my life, this one scares me the most. Some have made me a little nervous and worried, but this one, frankly, scares me because of its complications and, so far, significant mortality rate.”

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