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Kentucky Universities Brace For Reopening During Pandemic


All of Kentucky’s public universities will open up with some form of in-person instruction in August, but will also give students the option to take classes online.

Each school has a slightly different plan for reopening—only the University of Kentucky plans to test all students on its campus at the beginning of the academic year—but all of the institutions will require masks and social distancing and conduct contact tracing.

“I want to make it uncool to walk around without a mask,” said University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi during a conference call hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

“We need to say you have to wear a mask, you have to social distance, because it’s not just about you, it’s about other people.”

The University of Louisville plans to make testing available to all students and faculty, but won’t require it.

Amid the pandemic, universities will offer some classes entirely online and some will be “hybrid,” giving students the option to attend in-person or remotely.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said that the school is working hard to provide some form of in-person class experience.

“Given the demand we have for it, given our retention numbers and all, people still strongly desire it. It offers something of value, so we have to deliver it in a different way, a safe way,” Capilouto said.

UK plans to test all 30,000 students expected to return for in-person instruction in August with a combination of drive-thru and walk-up testing.

Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni said that the public needs to understand that no university is going to be virus-free.

“We have to learn to live beside COVID,” Caboni said. “And that means it’s going to be in our communities, on our campuses, and we just have to be aggressive in stamping that out whenever possible.”

Caboni said that WKU will focus on contact tracing and will test students showing coronavirus symptoms and “anyone who wants or needs a test.”

All of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities are facing a dip in full-time enrollment as the academic year begins in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and institutions have had to absorb millions of dollars in coronavirus-related expenses.

Bendapudi said that students—especially low-income ones—thinking about taking a year off from college, should reconsider.

“The best time to be in school is when the economy is not booming. This is the time when you want to stay in school, get yourself positioned for what comes next,” Bendapudi said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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