South Dakota public universities decide on COVID-19 guidelines for the upcoming school year Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)— This week, the South Dakota Board of Regents announced that at the recommendation of university presidents, the protocol that required face coverings in all public indoor spaces on campus will be lifted on May 10.

“Our system has continuously responded to changing circumstances caused by the pandemic,” said Brian L. Maher, the regents’ executive director and CEO. “With vaccines now widely available, our institutions are eager to adjust as we look forward to the fall semester. Administrators will continue to monitor conditions, making the best decisions possible with the information available to them.”

Fall semester planning is underway on all campuses. Here is a closer look at what is planned at the public universities for this upcoming school year.

Black Hills State University

Facemasks will be optional for all buildings at both the Spearfish and Rapid City locations of Black Hills State University.

In a news release, BHSU said summer camps and other events will be held on campus throughout the summer and COVID-19 approved work-from-home accommodations will end and all employees will return to working from their assigned office or work place.

They told KELOLAND News they will continue to monitor the situation and respond accordingly if adjustments need to be made.

BHSU is encouraging people to get their vaccinations, which are readily available in Spearfish and Rapid City.

Guidelines are created by the BHSU campus COVID-19 Task Force with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South Dakota Department of Health, Monument Health, South Dakota Board of Regents, Global Center for Health Security and the American College Health Association.

Dakota State University

Dakota State University told KELOLAND News that is it too soon to determine the exact guidelines for the upcoming academic year. They said these will be developed over the summer, as the pandemic evolves.

However, according to a news release, DSU will be mask optional on May 10.

“Because of the patience and flexibility of our students, faculty, and staff, we have successfully completed this academic year, and we look forward to the promise of a more traditional campus experience in the fall,” said José-Marie Griffiths, President of Dakota State University.

Dakota State determines guidelines based on recommendations from the CDC and Department of Health. We also collaborate with the South Dakota Board of Regents, and Madison Regional Health System, DSU said.

The release states that DSU will continue to follow CDC recommendations for social distancing and meeting room capacities, along with proper hygiene techniques.

Northern State University

Northern State University is transitioning to a masks optional environment as well as lifting their social distancing restrictions.

In a new release, NSU Acting President Veronica Paulson said the move to a mask optional campus is an exciting step toward normalcy.

“After an unprecedented year full of challenges that have required the constant ability to adapt and be flexible, we’re thrilled to have reached this point,” Paulson said. “On behalf of NSU Senior Cabinet, I want to thank our students, staff and faculty for their efforts this year to keep our campus and community safe and healthy.”

Northern told KELOLAND News that starting this summer and heading into the fall semester, students, staff and faculty should expect more in-person classes, increased classroom capacities, more campus activities and the return of campus events.

They expect some elements to remain, for instance, Plexiglass in the dining hall and food service areas, and some components of HyFlex, a hybrid model of learning that faculty embraced heading into last fall’s semester.

“Additionally, our messaging for campus will include common sense practices that help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu and coronavirus,” Justin R. Fraase, Vice President of Enrollment, Communications and Marketing at Northern State University said.

South Dakota School of Mines

South Dakota School of Mines, while not requiring masks or social distancing after May 10, are still encouraging anyone who wants to wear a mask to continue to do so.

However, their Museum of Geology will continue to implement a mask mandate, but they will lift the social distancing and capacity limits on May 10.

In a news release, the school says that while the campus is a little quieter in the summer, museum traffic is the opposite, as it is a popular destination for thousands of visitors from outside the region.

They will reevaluate the mask mandate mid-summer, based on the COVID-19 vaccination numbers and community spread.

South Dakota State University

Masks will be optional for SDSU staff and students beginning on May 10, after being required since the start of the academic year.

“The efforts of our students and staff the past year have given us an opportunity to begin planning for more in-person class opportunities, increased capacity in facilities across campus and larger events for the fall semester,” said SDSU President Barry Dunn in a news release. “We continue to monitor all the key public health indicators to ensure the safety of everyone. The availability of vaccines and the reduced number of cases in the region make this move possible. It is the first step in our planning efforts to open our campus for a more inclusive and exciting 2021-22 academic year.”

In an email sent out to an SDSU student, the school says this decision is based on several public health factors, including the ability to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and the declining number of cases.

“Our COVID-19 Response Team and JacksRBack Task Force will continue to meet over the summer. We are looking forward to more in-person opportunities in the classroom, fewer capacity restrictions on campus and larger events,” said Mike Lockrem, director of the University of Marketing Communications. “The groups will continue to monitor all public health guidance and make any adjustments necessary to ensure the health and safety of our campus. But with the continued roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, we are anticipating fewer mitigation efforts and a very vibrant campus.”

SDSU shared with KELOLAND News that they surpassed giving 10,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests to students this year last week.

According to the email, the SDSU COVID-19 Response Team will continue to review and respond to the health and safety of our campus community, as well as monitor CDC guidance and public health information provided by the South Dakota Department of Health.

They are still encouraging those who have been exposed to follow the CDC guidelines and they also included they will respect anyone who wants to wear a face covering after the new policy is in place.

University of South Dakota

The University of South Dakota will return to normal operations in the fall of 2021. The university will masks optional, physical distancing is not required and plan to reinstate events, such as Dakota Days, they told KELOLAND News.

According to a news release, USD has maintained consistently low COVID-19 infection rates during the spring semester, seeing a 85% decrease in cases for students and 63% for staff compared to the fall semester. They saw over 4,000 students, faculty and staff tested for COVID-19 and voluntarily went into isolation if they were positive.

“At a time when many other universities pivoted to online-only instruction, USD was able to offer face-to-face learning opportunities and on-campus living throughout the year, giving our students a robust learning experience despite the challenges of the pandemic,” President Sheila K. Gestring said in the release. “A mask-optional environment is a step in the right direction as we plan to return to normal campus operations this fall.

USD expects students, faculty and staff to monitor themselves for symptoms and remain home if symptomatic and get medical advice, they told KELOLAND News.

The USD COVID-19 Case Management team will remain in place. USD will continue to monitor conditions and follow guidelines from state and national public health authorities.

Southeast Technical College

Southeast Technical College will be following in the steps of the other larger universities in the state and making masks recommended but not required on campus, starting May 10.

Southeast Tech is asking people to maintain a safe social distance whenever possible.

They are telling students not to come to campus if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Southeast Tech encourages all eligible individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lake Area Technical College

After having a successful year operating face-to-face classes and labs since June 2020, Mike Cartney, President of Lake Area Technical College says they will return to normal operations for the Fall 2021 school year.

Cartney says adherence to CDC guidance will remain and COVID risk mitigation steps, such as social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, symptom monitoring, reporting, tracking and vaccinations will continue to be emphasized, with ongoing education and conversations with students and staff.

“Since the risk of contracting and severe complications from COVID-19 is greatly reduced, the mitigation steps for COVID-19 will be correspondingly lowered,” Cartney said. “One significant change will be that vaccinated student will not be required to quarantine if exposed, provided they remain asymptomatic.”

Guidelines are developed by a standing committee in concert with local medical and health care providers, Cartney says. Through the local administrative hierarchy, the local Watertown School Board is regularly briefed and review  plans.

Mitchell Technical College

If the current trends, both state-wide and local, continue, Mitchell Technical College will return to campus with “masks optional” in the fall, Scott Fossum, Dean of Student Success, says.

Mitchell Technical College will also continue with modified social distancing procedures, if CDC guidance suggests that is appropriate, he says. Other mitigation processes and procedures, such as cleaning and disinfecting high traffic, high tough areas, having hand sanitizer available and continuing to operate their air exchange units with high grade filters and high exchange rate, will stay the same.

The campus COVID committee utilizes information from the South Dakota Department of Health and CDC guidelines to create best practices, Fossum says.  They also track local trends in active cases in making decisions that affect campus practices.

KELOLAND News reached out to Augustana University, who said they are not releasing information on the potential changes to policies at this time.

We will be sharing more about the University of Sioux Falls policy plans later this week.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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