UW pauses return to in-person classes

CASPER — Five University of Wyoming students tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, causing the school to pause its phased return to the fall semester.

The school said earlier this week that five or more positive tests of students and employees in Laramie in a single day would trigger a pause lasting five business days, during which university officials will examine the outbreak and decide on next steps. That could mean a shift entirely to online learning for the semester, similar to what UW did in the spring during the initial onset of the pandemic in Wyoming.

Students have been told to shelter in place during the pause and only interact with people in their “pod” — in other words, students who share their floor, if they live in a dorm, or those who live in the same dwelling as them. All courses will be held online during the pause, and in-person activities are suspended, unless specific exceptions have been granted.

The five-day period ends Sept. 9, two days after the school was expected to resume some in-person learning. All fall courses that were planning to be held in person were expected to do so by Sept. 28. The school had initially planned to begin the semester in person, but instead, online learning began Aug. 24 as part of the phased return.

“This pause is necessary for us to gather information and gain a more complete picture of what’s happening with the virus at UW. We have planned and prepared for this possibility and are ready to evaluate and work toward resuming in-person operations,” first-year UW President Ed Seidel said. “Our sincere hope is that it will be possible to resume our fall return plan after this pause, based upon the rigorous testing, tracing and quarantine protocols we have put in place to protect the health and safety of our students, employees and broader community.”

The university said that students who were scheduled to move into university housing this weekend would still be able to do so, even with a stoppage.

Wednesday evening’s announcement comes a day after the school said nearly 50 students were in quarantine because of off-campus gatherings that resulted in positive COVID-19 tests. The students lived either in Greek Life housing or elsewhere off campus. Seven students had tested positive this week as of Tuesday.

The students who tested positive Wednesday had already begun exhibiting signs of the coronavirus and underwent rapid testing at the school’s Student Health Service. The school expected to receive more results Wednesday evening.

UW Residence Life and Dining Services will provide food service and activities for residence hall students during the stoppage. All employees not deemed “critical pause personnel” will work remotely during that time.

The Early Care and Education Center; the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory; the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic in the Health Sciences Building; and the Psychology Clinic in the Biological Sciences Building remain open. Testing procedures, including the Student Health Service and surveillance testing, will continue during the pause.

Athletic facilities also remain open for necessary activities, and modified practices and workouts will continue.