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Austin Peay State University to build on COVID-19 success, Plans for Traditional, face-to-face fall 2021 semester

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – When Lynn Fisher arrived at Austin Peay State University (APSU) last spring as the school’s first director of emergency management, she expected the worse. She’d just moved from Philadelphia, where she oversaw disaster responses to refinery explosions and Amtrak train derailments, as the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic was shutting down the entire world.

Austin Peay State University student having their temperature taken. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University student having their temperature taken. (APSU)

On her first trip to a Clarksville Walmart, she noticed several people shopping without face masks – something unheard of in Philadelphia. In this type of environment, how would Austin Peay State University safely resume classes for the fall semester?

“I worked for the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, so I came out of a big city with 1.4 million people to a smaller town, smaller community, but the issues are still the same,” she said.

Several members of Austin Peay State University’s COVID-19 Task Force shared her concerns, so like all other schools across the state, the task force crafted the University’s own unique guidelines for transitioning back to face-to-face classes in that fall. Six months later in December, Fisher and the task force were shocked by the results. Austin Peay drastically outperformed every other public school in Tennessee in terms of low positive cases for the new coronavirus.

“Our highest single day case count, from August 24th-December 1st, was 43, which is freaking amazing because of the fact that we have several thousand people on and around campus every day,” she said. “That’s exemplary, and it’s something above and beyond that no other university in Tennessee can claim.”

Now, University officials are building upon that success as they plan for a return to traditional, predominantly face-to-face instruction and operation for the fall 2021 semester. 

“We’ve been through nearly a year of emergency operations that have tested our protocols and our perseverance,” Dannelle Whiteside, interim APSU president, said. “It is rare to have such a lengthy scenario, but it has prepared us for future crises.”

As of today, those plans will resemble Austin Peay State University’s pre-pandemic class format, while also having the ability to convert to alternative course delivery should the need arise. All decisions about the fall 2021 semester still depend on the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the University proved last fall that it can effectively host classes on campus.

“Though the pandemic forced us to shift to more online offerings, we have also listened to students who have consistently told us that they need more face-to-face instruction and interaction,” Whiteside said. 

 


Risk Levels

Last summer, Austin Peay State University’s COVID-19 Task Force developed different risk levels, dictating how the University will operate during the pandemic. APSU has remained at the “moderate” level since last summer, but the task force hopes they’ll lower that by the time fall 2021 classes begin.

Lynn Fisher

Lynn Fisher

“Our next step down is the ‘elevated’ category,” Fisher said. “For us to reach that category, one of the assumptions is most people in the community will by then have had an opportunity to be vaccinated and our community spread numbers are dropping.”

Even if COVID-19 Coronavirus case numbers continue to decrease, as they are now, the CDC may continue current social distancing requirements.

“That determines the capacities for our classrooms,” Fisher said. “If the CDC announces in August that we must maintain six feet apart, we’ll have to keep that 38 percent capacity in our classrooms.”

For the last two semesters, Austin Peay State University’s classrooms have been well below that 38 percent capacity.

APSU officials said they’re committed to keeping faculty, staff, and students safe while also bringing back the excitement that once permeated throughout this campus. Gwendoline Berger experienced this energy when she left Orleans, France, in 2019 to spend a year abroad at Austin Peay State University. She picked the Clarksville university because of the beautiful campus photos she saw online, but it was the atmosphere she found at APSU that made her time here so memorable.

“I had the best American student experience ever,” she said. “Austin Peay was above all of my expectations. I simply lived an amazing year, it was fantastic.”


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