By Riley Morningstar

The Journal

CLEMSON — Clemson University begins its fall semester online today as colleges and universities around the nation begin the school year during a pandemic.

The Tiger Cub statue outside Clemson University’s Memorial Stadium wears a mask over its face.
Riley Morningstar | The Journal

The start to the semester is unlike any other in Clemson’s history, with online instruction penciled in for more than a month until in-person classes are scheduled to begin Sept. 21.

Late last month, the school steered away from in-person classes originally scheduled to begin today and banked on a dip in local coronavirus cases after Labor Day.

The move could benefit Clemson in a long-range approach, especially after watching the University of North Carolina pivot indefinitely to online learning after just a week of in-person classes.

Several COVID-19 clusters popped up over the first week of classes at UNC, with the school’s percent positivity rate jumping from 2.8 percent to 13.6 percent with 954 students being tested in a six-day period. More than 500 students were in isolation or quarantine as of Monday afternoon.

Clemson spokesman Joe Galbraith said officials were monitoring virus developments “around the state and region.”

“Obviously, with what’s happening with our peers, we remain steadfast in our preparation to begin in-person instruction in September,” he told The Journal. “We will certainly learn along the way, both in processes and strategy, and we do know the importance of these students and individual responsibilities to the health of the community. Wearing masks is a vital step, distancing when possible and taking those precautions and individual responsibility is so key to the success of the institution when we return in full in September.”

Clemson has mandated that anyone who works for or lives at the school must secure a negative COVID-19 test result within five days of returning to campus or any other university location for the fall semester. Those who live off campus and don’t work at Clemson are not required to provide a negative COVID-19 test before Sept. 21. Earlier this week, officials began random testing of students in the area to provide baseline numbers.

Face masks will be required in most settings and will be added into the school’s code of conduct. For those refusing to wear a mask, classes have been offered fully online.

Quarantine capacity

Galbraith said more than 200 rooms are available for quarantining, and the university’s housing team has identified places on and off campus. He said Clemson could be flexible in a situation where more rooms are needed.

“It’s important to note that doesn’t encapsulate the entirety of the availability for isolation and quarantine, because some students might have a private room in which they can self-isolate and not have to be moved to some space,” he said. “Roommates might both need to quarantine, to which they can stay in their own room.”

A student who tests positive for the virus can “absolutely go home if they can get home safely and don’t pose a risk to who they’re living with,” Galbraith said.

Officials will also keep an eye on off-campus parties, as schools such as Notre Dame and the University of Tennessee have tracked cases back to student parties.

Galbraith said officials will emphasize personal responsibility to contribute to the community goal of slowing the spread of the virus.

COVID data online

In a move of transparency, Clemson recently published a COVID-19 data tracking dashboard that shows the combined number of tests and positive results for all university tests.

From July 30 to Aug. 8, there were seven positives out of 1,160 tests taken by faculty, staff and students. The dashboard will be refreshed every Friday, according to Galbraith.

Library will look different

Clemson’s R.M. Cooper Library will remain closed until Sept. 21.

Capacity has been trimmed from 2,200 people to around 600, and access will be by appointment only, requiring students to book a seat online ahead of time. Those using the library will be limited to a two-hour time block. Instead of being open 24 hours for five days a week, the library will have shortened hours. 

University policy mandates masks be worn for the entire time someone is in the library unless they are eating food. Custodians will clean the library twice a day. 

“I think it’s been challenging, because just like anything else, things change a lot,” Clemson dean of libraries Christopher Cox said of the new protocols. “We’re always kind of having to make adjustments to our plans, and what we’ve been doing is prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty and staff and my employees.”

For those still not in the area, library workers are mailing out materials to those who request it, and a curbside service is in place.

Even though Clemson is more than a month away from returning to in-person operations, Cox said his team is ready to have “some normalcy” back at work.

“It’ll be good to be able to have students back on campus and have the people I work with on a regular basis and see people in the building,” he told The Journal. “We know it’s a challenging situation and it’s going to be a lot different than it used to be, but it’ll be good to have some normalcy.”

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