BBJ: USM Chancellor Perman: ‘We will not have Covid-free campuses.’

By Morgan Eichensehr
June 8, 2020

Dr. Jay Perman, 2013Maryland’s university presidents say they know it is not a matter of if anyone will become infected with Covid-19 when on-campus activities resume, but when. And they are making major investments to try and limit infection spread as much as possible.

Most of the state’s colleges, including the 12 institutions overseen by the University System of Maryland, have said they plan to reopen campuses for at least some in-person learning come fall. Institutions have laid out reopening action plans that include heightened safety protocols like requiring masks to be worn in all buildings and learning spaces, limiting non-academic campus events, obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for all essential staff, increasing facilities cleaning schedules and reducing on-campus housing capacity by at least a third in most cases. Still, it will not be enough to guarantee every student and staff member will be safe from Covid-19.

“We know we’ll need to communicate to our students, families, faculty staff that we won’t have Covid-free campuses,” said Dr. Jay Perman, USM chancellor. “We’re not living in a bubble. We’re going to have cases on campus unless the disease goes away, so we must have the capacity to deal with them.”

All of those additional safety measures come with major costs, Perman explained to a group of Baltimore business leaders during a webinar panel hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee June 8. He said all reopening plans will remain flexible and will revolve around the goal of having fewer bodies on campuses at any given time. But efforts to “de-densify” campuses will continue to put huge financial strains on institutions that have already suffered major losses this year, Perman said.

Morgan State University, for example, has already spent about $5.5 million to equip more than 200 of its campus classrooms with advanced technology that will allow for classes conducted in person to simultaneously be livestreamed to any students opting to remain remote. David Wilson, the university’s president, said the investment was made so that students may have the option to take some of their classes in person or continue their learning online.

Wilson echoed Perman in noting that Morgan State “can’t guarantee no one is going to come away from the university having contracted Covid-19,” but is focused instead on minimizing risk.

In that vein, the university is also planning to reduce its on-campus housing capacity — which will mean a reduction in room and board revenue — by more than 30%. Morgan State is among a handful of local schools, along with Towson University and Loyola University Maryland, that are planning to seek off-campus facilities that they may be able lease in order to provide safer residential options for hundreds of students.

The resulting losses from housing capacity reductions will compound the mass room and board refunds schools have already doled out for the spring semester. A recent Business Journals analysis of college budgets found Maryland’s four-year and graduate institutions faced about $245 million in collective revenue losses, due to room and board and other on-campus fee refunds alone.

Perman pointed out there are also huge costs associated with obtaining necessary PPE as well as Covid-19 testing supplies, which most campuses have promised to acquire as a means of monitoring any campus community member who may be infected. Estimates show commercial Covid-19 tests can cost about $150 each. USM’s institutions are investigating what kind of testing capacity may be needed to adequately monitor 172,000 students and 41,000 faculty and staff across its institutions.

To read the complete story, visit the Baltimore Business Journal’s website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

Also see:

 


COVID-19: GBC Coverage and Response

COVID-19 Resources and Helpful Websites

Special Update on State and Federal Legislation Related to COVID-19

Coverage of GBC Member companies’ philanthropic responses to COVID-19