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OU amid coronavirus: Interim President Harroz announces phased reopening for university

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Harroz (copy)

Then-interim OU President Joseph Harroz speaks during the regents meeting in Bizzell Memorial Library March 10.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz announced the university’s first phase to reopen the university and begin moving back to normal operations in the fall.

In an email, Harroz announced that the first phase of the university’s plan to return to normal operations in August will begin May 11, when operations staff will be allowed back on campus to prepare for the fall semester. Afterward, “some research faculty who require physical access to facilities will return to campus.”

Harroz said in the email that the university is planning how to return to normal operations in consultation with public health and disease experts at the OU Health Sciences Center. 

“This controlled approach is crafted with careful consideration of local and state level recommended guidelines,” Harroz said in the email. “Because we are offering summer instruction exclusively online and all summer camps and activities have been suspended, the Norman campus is in a position to safely phase in the reopening process over the next few months.”

All operations personnel and research faculty who are part of the initial phase will complete health screenings, with some being tested for the coronavirus, Harroz said in the email. 

“This initial phase will be instructive, allowing us to implement and refine protective measures, including the required use of (personal protective equipment), heightened social distancing and hygiene practices, increased cleaning, and more,” Harroz said in the email.

Harroz said the plan to prepare for the fall semester is divided into “several phases” in order to “maximize safety,” according to the email. To do so, some departments and positions will return earlier than others.

“This first controlled phase, as well as ongoing consultation with experts regarding the most up-to-date knowledge of the disease, will inform subsequent phase protocols for reopening,” Harroz said in the email. “Details on the subsequent phases — including dates and impacted personnel — will be communicated in the coming weeks.”

As of now, Harroz said in the email that the university is “not contemplating a university-wide furlough between now and June 30,” and telecommuting whenever possible is still encouraged until further notice. 

Administrative leave with pay will continue through June 30, as employees will be slowly returning to campus and expected to return to in-person work when they are told to by their supervisors, according to the email.

Supervisors will provide work plans outlining continued telecommuting and safety modifications that are specific to each department, according to the email, and communicate return plans to employees with “as much notice as possible, but no less than 48 hours notice of expected return.”

In the email, Harroz said each phase will be guided by science-based decisions and safety protocols — one example being the “Clean and Green” initiative that was launched by University Operations.

“Through Clean and Green, the cleaning procedures on our campuses have been augmented by the installation of hundreds of hand sanitizing stations and the use of electrostatic spray technology in high-traffic areas,” Harroz said in the email. “We will continue to find novel and effective ways to keep our community safe.”

Further, Harroz said he has formed a task force to create protocols for testing, contact tracing, scientific sampling and other procedures to increase safety, which is being led by OU’s Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, according to the email.

“We remain committed to returning to full operations this fall, offering the traditional OU experience of in-person instruction and residential life,” Harroz said in the email. “Our phased return plan is designed with flexibility in mind so that we can easily adapt to our changing environment and safely prepare for the academic year. We will communicate on this matter often and with increased detail as we refine our plans and finalize the subsequent phases.”

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