Mask, classroom changes help keep campus safe

To maintain classroom safety, keep face-to-face instruction and prevent healthy students from being asked to quarantine, UNI has reassigned a total of 160 classes to new locations, and redesigned seating in over 100 classrooms, to further increase physical distancing and reduce the need for students to quarantine because of potential exposure. 

While there is no evidence of the transmission of COVID-19 in UNI classrooms, students sitting less than 6 feet from someone with a positive COVID-19 test are required to quarantine, said Patrick Pease, associate provost for academic affairs. The changes eliminated over 25,000 of those potential points of contact tracing across classes.

“Because our other safety measures, such as masks, have been effective in preventing spread in classes, we can now focus on preventing healthy people from being quarantined,” Pease said. “Our safety protocols appear to be working so our present concern is not with people getting sick in classes, it is that too many healthy students are being asked to sit out of class. Reducing that number not only prevents needless disruptions and stress for healthy students, but allows us to focus our efforts on the small number of students who are sick.”

To make room for classes that maintain social distancing requirements, UNI has taken over all of the available large spaces on our campus, including the Maucker Ballroom, the Commons Ballroom, the Georgian Lounge, the University Room, the Great Reading Room and others. 

Teams from Facilities Management and Information Technology worked quickly to make improvements to these spaces so that they are more conducive to teaching and learning - adding drapery to deaden echoes in the Commons Ballroom and Georgian Lounge, increasing the size of screens and updating projectors, and other changes. Seats were taken out of some classrooms and stickers on chairs indicated which seats could be used.

“The additional changes we are making will greatly reduce the chances of our healthy students being asked to quarantine because they sat next to someone who tests positive (for COVID-19),” Pease said.

The changes come on top of existing safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, face masks, increased air circulation, enhanced cleaning, testing and contact tracing.

The main driver of these changes was to continue face-to-face instruction on campus with as little disruption as possible. In an email to students, Provost Jim Wohlpart addressed rumors of the university moving classes online after the withdrawal deadline passes.

“Please be assured that we would not have done all this work, and invested so heavily in your learning experience, if we intended to shift online,” Wohlpart said. “Our goal is to finish the semester with as many face-to-face classes as possible while elevating our efforts to maintain the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students.” 

In order to further ensure UNI students can safely remain on campus, officials have advocated for regional mask mandates. On Tuesday, the Cedar Falls City Council approved a six-week mask mandate, joining Waterloo, which adopted a similar mandate in August.

“It is my goal to keep UNI’s doors open and students here in the Cedar Valley this year, but reaching that goal depends critically on maintaining the health of our students and employees,” Nook wrote Tuesday in a letter to Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green. “We are going to great lengths to protect our students and employees on our campus. For our students and employees to stay safe, we need the communities and citizens of Black Hawk County to take the same level of precautions that we are taking here on campus. or our efforts will not work.”