Masks, Thermometers to Fill Backpacks When Campuses Return
Protective face masks during Covid19. (Photographer: StefanWermuth/Bloomberg)     

Masks, Thermometers to Fill Backpacks When Campuses Return

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(Bloomberg) -- Purdue will give students a kit that includes face masks and a thermometer. Brown plans to test all students and employees for coronavirus.

These are some of the ways colleges will look different, if they can open safely in August or September, college presidents told the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee at a hearing Thursday. Even with extensive testing, schools understand their best laid plans might not work.

“Brown will not open unless we can do so safely,” university President Christina Paxson told the committee. “We will not compromise on safety.”

Colleges across the U.S. are grappling with how to hold classes in person while managing health and safety concerns as they seek to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. They’re also making provisions in case students or community members contract the virus in the fall. If they don’t open in person, they face additional economic constraints from student deferrals, lower tuition and room and board revenue.

Paxson said the measures will surely be expensive.

“Putting these elements in place will require an extraordinary effort, and will create additional financial pressure on colleges and universities,” she said in prepared testimony provided to the committee.

If they can’t open, schools may need support from the federal government to survive, especially those that were in precarious financial shape even before the pandemic, she said. Already, the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, expects a negative financial impact next fiscal year of at least $100 to $200 million, depending in part on expenses associated with different reopening scenarios.

Lane College, a historically black college in Jackson, Tennessee, also saw heavy economic losses from sending students home.

Each of the 819 residential students’ accounts was credited $713.44 for a total of about $584,000, which is slightly less than 10% of the school’s budget, and 76% of the student body resided on campus, the school’s president, Logan Hampton, told the committee.

Schools are beginning to outline other ways they expect things to change.

Stanford plans to operate over four quarters, including the summer. The University of Texas at Austin says fall classes will be more spread out than usual and can be scheduled between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The key issue is how schools will reduce density to prevent spreading. Students once sat in 90-person lecture halls that may now hold 30 people.

Harvard imagines disinfecting classrooms after each use.

“We have not made a decision yet whether or not to bring students back or how many to bring back,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, who wasn’t testifying on Thursday, said on Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “We’re trying to delay that as much as possible.”

At Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, at least one-third of the staff will be required to work remotely, President Mitch Daniels Jr. said in written testimony.

“Our technologists have applied what they’ve learned about social distancing to redesign 700 classrooms and labs, and 9,500 dormitory rooms, all of which will be reconfigured with lower occupancy limits,” he said. “All large-enrollment courses will be offered online as well as in person, to accommodate those who cannot or choose not to come to campus, and to further reduce in-class numbers.”

Once students arrive in August, they will get a kit with face masks and a thermometer for daily temperature-taking.

The school is purchasing plexiglass that exceeds a mile, he told the committee.

The school will ask students to commit to at least a semester of inconvenience, “not primarily for the student’s own protection but for the safety of those who teach and otherwise serve them,” according to Daniels’s testimony.

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