Washington State University is addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19 with extensive planning as well as innovation as it looks ahead to the fall semester.

Among other things, WSU will use a phone app to help with critically important contact tracing in the event of positive COVID-19 tests involving students, faculty or staff this fall, WSU President Kirk Schulz announced Friday during the university’s fifth online town hall. Several options are being evaluated, with Schulz pledging to inform the WSU community well in advance of their selection as well as their implementation plans.

In Pullman, the development of in-house testing capabilities is also well underway in preparation for the return of students, faculty and staff.

“It’s going to be important for our fall in-person experiences to be able to do rapid testing in a format that’s close by where we can get those results quickly,” Schulz said.

More than 2,000 members of the WSU community tuned into the hour-long town hall on Friday. Schulz was joined by Interim Provost Bryan Slinker, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer Stacy Pearson and Theresa Elliot‑Cheslek, vice president and chief human resources officer.

Among the other pledges made during the town hall related to the fall 2020 semester:

  • WSU will have physical distancing policies in place for all of its campuses
  • Cleaning protocols for all university locations, from classrooms to event spaces, will be established
  • Decisions on what student populations inside residence halls will look like for the fall semester will be made within the next few weeks.
  • WSU continues to plan for in-person experiences at all of its campus locations in the fall in ways that comply with guidance from state and local public health officials, and with the recognition that some instruction will have to continue being delivered remotely.

Slinker, who is developing the fall semester academic plan, spoke at length about what changes WSU faculty, staff and students will notice compared to prior semesters. Large lecture classes will be delivered via distance or hybrid learning methods. Consistent with its Pac-12 colleagues, WSU is looking to limit in-person classes to between 25 and 50 students.

“We’ve already determined that we cannot use more than 25% of any classroom capacity and feel like we can keep people safe,” Slinker said, underscoring the need to look at alternatives for large lecture classes.

WSU will also enable instructors who are considered to have high-risk health conditions to deliver their classes remotely.

Asked about the possibility of adjusting the fall semester calendar as other universities have, Slinker said proposals are being considered. The goal of those plans is to minimize the number of students on campus during flu season.

WSU already starts its fall semester earlier than many colleges and universities, meaning there are only two weeks of instruction and one week of finals traditionally scheduled for after the Thanksgiving holiday. Any decisions to change the existing calendar would be communicated well in advance.

WSU students proved resilience this spring in the face of challenges posed by COVID-19. Slinker noted that fewer students dropped fewer classes overall this past spring semester compared to Spring 2019.

For WSU employees, Human Resource Services continues to require them to work remotely if they are able, and WSU is committed to ensuring flexibly for faculty and staff with children or who are dealing with underlying health conditions themselves or among their family members, Elliot‑Cheslek said.

University leaders also discussed the ongoing budget planning exercise requested by the state in the wake of projected shortfalls in tax revenue due to COVID-19. More information on that exercise can be found on the Budget Office’s website.

A final draft plan for the return of in-person research activities was also discussed during the town hall and is available on the Office of Research website.

The entire town hall is available for viewing on YouTube. WSU’s next virtual town hall is scheduled for June 12.