Washington State University will open fall semester with a mix of in-person and online instruction and then transition to an entirely distance learning approach for the final few weeks of the semester following Thanksgiving break.

Interim Provost Bryan Slinker announced the decision Wednesday during the university’s latest COVID-19 online town hall, explaining the brief post-Thanksgiving transition is intended to help protect the health of the WSU community by limiting the travel of thousands of students during flu season.

A video replay of the entire town hall, which also covered topics ranging from housing and dining services to ongoing discussions about budget cuts, can be viewed online. It followed Gov. Jay Inslee’s news conference where he outlined guidance for the resumption of in-person instruction on college campuses this fall.

“The most important message that we need for you to hear today is that Fall 2020 will be different, it will not be what you’re used to,” Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president of student affairs, said.

WSU will discourage students throughout the university system from non-essential travel during the fall semester as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. WSU residence halls will have reduced capacity, with most rooms having just a single occupant, as well as placing significant limitations on visitors and guests. Fall Move-In will also be substantially different compared to years prior, taking place over an extended period of time.

Gonzales said more housing information related to the Pullman campus will be released next week.

“I also want to be abundantly clear, we will not tolerate racially based treatment or stigmatization from COVID-19 or those who test positive,” Gonzales said.

Instruction during the fall semester will be carried out through a mix of distance learning and face-to-face instruction. Classes larger than 50 students will be delivered online. In-person classes will have assigned seating, with at least six feet of distance between students and enhanced cleaning between classroom sessions. Signage regarding these and other actions taken to ensure physical distancing will be highly visible, Slinker said.

The fall semester will not be shortened by the move to all-remote learning after the Thanksgiving break. Two weeks of instruction will take place as well as finals week, Slinker said.

Aside from differences in residence halls and classrooms, students will also notice changes like reduced capacities in dining halls, recreational facilities, the Compton Union Building and other cultural and student centers and event spaces. Cougar Health Services will be open and offer telehealth and tele-counseling.

Slinker also discussed WSU Pullman’s testing capacities for the fall, noting that students displaying respiratory diseases symptoms or others associated with COVID-19 will be tested to see if they have the virus.  Active surveillance testing methods are also be evaluated for the fall.

WSU President Kirk Schulz discussed efforts to reduce the university’s budget by $37 million, saying that the university will communicate its proposals for meeting that goal on July 15. No decision on measures like furloughs have been made at this time, Schulz said.

For employees, teleworking will continue to be the paramount option heading into the fall semester if possible. Those working on-site will begin formally attesting to their health on June 29 via the MyWSU website, Theresa Elliot-Cheslek, associate vice president and chief human resource officer, said.

In his closing remarks, Schulz also touched on the topic of face masks, which as of Friday will be required under a statewide order in outdoor and indoor public spaces.

“Masks are not about personal freedom, the masks are not about whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or which way you lean, masks are about keeping you safe and keeping the people around you safe,” Schulz said.

The latest information on the university’s response to COVID-19 is available online.