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Montana State University released Wednesday a detailed plan for reopening the Bozeman campus this fall that aims to welcome back 16,500 students and reassure them they can have a largely face-to-face college experience while reducing risks from the coronavirus.

The Roadmap for Fall 2020 calls for restoring full operations at MSU and reducing “the risk of infection for as many people as possible,” wrote President Waded Cruzado. The “health and safety of the MSU community is our foremost priority.”

She acknowledged there’s a lot of uncertainty with the virus pandemic and the plan will likely change.

The lengthy plan was put together by the MSU Reconstitution Committee, headed by Provost Bob Mokwa and Vice President Terry Leist, with help from seven task forces.

“While adhering to these guidelines, the university seeks to enjoy the customary, in-person educational experience to the fullest extent possible,” the plan says.

It “strongly recommends,” but does not require, that students, faculty and most employees wear cloth face masks, especially where people can’t maintain 6-foot social distancing inside buildings.

Wearing masks will be required, however, of workers serving food, sick students visiting the health center and student athletes inside the fieldhouse.

Each student will be provided with a cloth face mask — decorated with Bobcat logos. Faculty members will be provided with face masks or face shields.

People will be given MSU Clean ‘Cat Kits, so they can sanitize their own desks, classroom seats, podiums and meeting rooms. Each student, faculty and staff member will be given a reusable spritz bottle with disinfectant, three microfiber cloths and a reusable bottle for hand sanitizer.

Everyone will be strongly encouraged to wash their hands often and use hand sanitizer extensively. Everyone will be asked to keep 6 feet from others to the extent possible.

Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesman, was asked why MSU thinks students wouldn’t ignore the face mask and distancing recommendations.

“In the roadmap we are making a strong recommendation that students, faculty, staff and visitors wear face masks and describing their benefits,” Ellig replied in an email, adding, “we are convinced that many faculty, students and staff will lead by example.”

MSU doesn’t plan to test everyone with virus symptoms, though that could change if more tests become available, the plan says.

Classrooms will be cleaned daily, with special attention to sanitizing doorknobs and handles. To keep students at a distance within classrooms, furniture will be rearranged and seating diagrams posted. For some large classes, the Strand Union Building will be used as temporary classrooms. Classes will meet earlier and later during the day than normal.

Classes will be taught either in person, or with students listening to lectures online in real time or with students listening to lectures whenever convenient — or a blend of all methods.

Priority for in-person classes will go to freshmen, core classes and capstone classes for juniors and seniors. Some courses may have half or a third of students attend in-person on alternating days.

Every instructor will have to be ready to switch to remote or online instruction if required by university or health authorities.

International students will be welcome to return, but MSU will not send students abroad this fall.

Whether to test student athletes who don’t have virus symptoms is still undecided.

Student athletes will generally face stricter rules. Ellig said student athletes are often the first to return to campus, they train together in groups in ways the rest of the student population does not, and these are considered best practices across the country.

Athletes entering the Fieldhouse will have to have a temperature check by a trained screener and answer questions about fever, cough, shortness of breath and any virus tests taken. Student athletes and staff will be required to wear masks or use social distancing and anyone who refuses will be asked to leave.

No direct or indirect athletic contact will be allowed “at this time,” including hitting in football or basketball. The plan says that student athletes can’t hold pickup games or even share balls.

However, Ellig said that MSU learned Wednesday afternoon that the NCAA Sports Science Institute has signed off on letting student-athletes use shared equipment with heightened cleaning protocols. Asked how MSU can entertain the possibility of playing football games, he said, “that is still being worked out by the NCAA and universities in their respective leagues.”

Dining halls will strongly encourage all diners to wear masks while walking. Self-serve meal and drink stations will be closed. Tables and chairs will be farther apart.

A large majority of dorm rooms in MSU’s 13 residence halls will be double occupancy. Roommates will be asked to keep social distance and no bunk beds will be allowed. Face masks will be strongly encouraged in common areas.

Asked how parents can be assured their student’s roommate isn’t carrying the virus, Ellig said, “There is no guarantee anywhere in society that other people aren’t carrying the virus. It a risk we are all living with.

“Our goal in the residence halls is to reduce the risk of transmission as much as possible. ... Students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus have to understand there will be risk, but that the university is taking dozens, if not hundreds, of steps to reduce that risk.”

The plan also lays out rules for employees, research labs and student affairs. ASMSU Senate meetings will be held Thursday nights online via WebEx. The student fitness center will be open on weekdays only, limited to 150 people at a time and hold no group exercise classes.

Students will have to make appointments to visit the health center, and psychological counseling sessions will be held by telephone or videoconference.

Cruzado announced earlier that classes would begin two weeks early on Aug. 17 and end Nov. 25 to avoid spreading the virus over the winter holidays.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.