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Bowie State will return for fall classes with fewer students on campus

The number of students on campus would be limited under a plan for fall classes at Bowie State University.
The number of students on campus would be limited under a plan for fall classes at Bowie State University. (Sun file photo)

Bowie State University will bring students back for the fall semester in phases start Aug. 31, reducing the number of students on campus to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan is part of an effort across Maryland to resume college classes. At The University of Maryland, College Park, the largest employer in Prince George’s County, students will have their temperatures checked daily, testing will be required for anyone with a fever or symptoms and virus levels will be tracked in in campus wastewater.

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“The plan selected to effectively reduce density on campus is called a Hybrid First-Year Intensive Model,” Bowie State President Aminta H. Breaux said in announcing the plan June 1. “It focuses on offering in-person classes primarily for first-year students.”

The Bowie State plan was developed by a committee assembled to assess the risks and adhere to CDC guidelines. Instruction will be delivered with a mix of in-person classes, classes that combine in-person and virtual methods, as well as remote classes.

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Breaux said the campus will shift all classes to a remote learning environment after the Thanksgiving break.

The plan is contingent on testing numbers, as well as state and county decisions.

Prince George’s County began a modified phase two reopening on Monday. That means retail stores, restaurants and houses of worship can offer indoor services with strict limits on capacity. Childcare facilities for essential employees and employees returning to work in phase two were allowed to open and outdoor community pools, both public and private, Outdoor youth sports and parks are open with strict limits.

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have continuously reported the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths since the pandemic hit Maryland. As of Wednesday, Prince George’s has 17,611 confirmed coronavirus cases and 623 deaths, with 25 additional deaths likely related to COVID-19 but a lab test was never performed.

Maryland is reporting 62,969 confirmed cases and 2,866 deaths as of Wednesday.

Across Maryland, at least 526,882 tests have been conducted, an increase of more than 11,000 in the last 24 hours that brings the statewide daily rate of positive tests down to 4.46%. The rate of positive tests is an important metric health experts analyze on a weekly basis. Maryland’s average rate of positive tests over seven days is 5.81%.

Ideal rates of positive tests are 5% or lower, according to the World Health Organization but Hogan is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that want a downward trajectory below 15% for 14 days to reopen.

The availability of tests and the ability for residents to get tested for COVID-19 is another key component for reopening the state’s economy. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said appointment-free COVID-19 testing is now available at Six Flags America theme park from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.

The Prince George’s Health Department has opened a new COVID-19 testing site at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center at 7120 Contee Road. The testing site is by appointment only and takes patients between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. To make an appointment call 301-883-6627.

Statewide, 702 people are currently hospitalized with 282 patients in the ICU and 419 patients in acute care, a 45% decrease since Memorial Day, Ricci said in a tweet.

Some of the concerns about social distancing will affect the return of students to Bowie State in August. Requirements for physical distancing in residence halls means a substantial reduction in the number of residential students, with first-year students getting first priority in assignments.

“Some accommodations will be available for targeted upper-class students with special circumstances, and efforts are underway to secure additional off-campus housing,” Breaux said.

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Faculty researchers are coming back to campus this month, as part of a joint effort with other University System of Maryland researchers to pilot some protocols for wider use in the fall. The college will use telework in the fall, especially for staff in high-risk categories.

Bowie state is part of the University System of Maryland, as is the College Park campus

University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh announced the new safety details for College Park Monday. Anyone on campus would be asked to report their temperature daily — the university did not clarify if this was required — and testing would be available for anyone who wants it.

The university would report positive cases to the state for contact tracing, which could be aided by the university’s contact tracing resources.

The university will provide temperature gauges and the reporting can be done electronically, or by filling out a form, in an effort to safeguard personal data. During a pilot testing program, the university health center and medical school delivered test results in 24 hours.

Campus faculty also are working on ways to monitor wastewater, air quality and high-touch surfaces for the virus, Loh said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported researchers in China found traces of the virus in feces after they studied samples from a coronavirus patient who died.

Additionally, the university plans to continuously remind people on campus to wear face coverings near others, remain 6 feet away from others, wash hands frequently and stay home if sick. The university still is determining what courses will be offered in-person, online or in a “blended format."

Additional information is expected to be available online by mid-July. Summer sessions are being conducted remotely, and Loh wrote faculty are preparing to move entirely to online instruction after the Thanksgiving break if there is a resurgence of the pandemic in late fall. Faculty and staff will return to campus in phases over several months, and those plans include telework and alternating days for in-person staffing.

Prince George’s Community College in Largo, which held a video graduation ceremony online Monday, will hold classes remotely in the fall.

Baltimore Sun reporter Wilbourn P. Nobles III contributed to this story.

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