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COVID-19 Alters Experience As In-Person Instruction Begins At Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University began in-person instruction for the fall semester on Monday.  WEMU’s Jorge Avellan was there as students returned to classrooms and has the story.

"Good morning, can I see your COVID-19 pass, please?"

An EMU student ambassador checks in students as they enter Strong Hall on campus for class.  Students, faculty, and staff are now required to use an online screening program to be cleared for campus access each day.  With only 11% of courses being offered in-person this fall, you can hear a pin drop in the lobby of Strong Hall.  But as I walk closer to one of the hallways, I start to hear a voice in the science complex.  As I look inside a classroom, I’m clearly reminded of COVID-19.  Fifteen students are wearing masks, sitting six feet apart and are closely listening to their professor who is also wearing a mask.  Professor Uli Reinhardt is teaching an environmental science course and says the pandemic has changed how the course is taught.

Pro. Uli Reindhardt: Usually I say, go together in a pair, work together with your neighbor, do this calculation to figure out something. We can’t do this anymore because of the six-feet distancing you really can’t collaborate, and so, students here do it individually. That’s a bit of a change.

Marney Brown from Ann Arbor is among the students in the class.

Marney Brown: I did feel safe because they had x’s marked on the floor for every chair you can sit in so it was already thought-out before the class of where you would sit. And professors don’t come within six feet of you and there is a Plexiglas shield in front of the teacher’s stand.

Most of the in-person courses being offered at EMU are in the sciences and performing arts.  Department heads in each area of study at the university decided whether their students would learn virtually or in-person.  Chris Gellasch is an associate professor of environmental science and also teaches at Strong Hall.  He explains why his class offers face-to-face instruction.

Prof. Chris Gellasch: There’s a lab component to it and there are lots of rocks, there are rocks and fossils and having the ability to actually handle and look at fossils, and turn them over. It’s so much more important than to actually just look at pictures.

Nineteen-year-old Korrine Stevens is an exercise science student who is optimistic about coming back to campus for face-to-face instruction during the pandemic.

Korrine Stevens: Honestly, I am excited to be back even if it’s just for one or two classes because it gives me that feel of being back in person and things going back to normal even though things are pretty much the opposite of normal right now.

While many students and professors are glad to have in-person instruction this fall, some students, like Alex Glover, who is studying languages, prefer to continue learning online.  Glover is learning virtually but works as the admissions office at the Student Center on campus.

Alex Glover: I understand, especially with some-in person labs, and with our music ensembles that being in-person is really important for that education. But I really do believe that a lot of our classes, all classes that can be online should be online for the time being. Jorge Avellan: Do you feel more comfortable that way? Alex Glover: I do.

The impact of the pandemic can also be felt at the student center on campus.  It has very low traffic and all the businesses at the food court are closed, with the exception of a Starbucks.  To help maintain physical distancing among students who are on campus, the university has posted social distancing signage at all of its buildings.  During the last week, two people have tested positive for COVID-19 at EMU--a student living on, or who visited campus, and an employee.  In addition, 17 other students who are enrolled at Eastern, but who were not on campus, also tested positive for COVID-19.  Geoff Larcomis a spokesperson for EMU.

Geoff Larcom: The university works with the Washtenaw County Health Department on what’s called contact tracing that is establishing anybody who tests positive, what their path was, who they interacted with, who else needs to be notified. So, that’s a process that the university, with the Washtenaw County Health Department, are working on and it’s a rigorous process. And of course, contact tracing is extremely important.

As of now, students living on campus are the only ones required by the university to get tested for COVID-19.  The university encourages the campus community to get tested for COVID-19 at the IHA Health Center @ EMU or by contacting other local health providers.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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