OBU will return to normal campus operations beginning June 1 for the summer and upcoming fall 2021 semesters, the University announced April 30 via a video featuring OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas and First Lady Jill Thomas. With the announcement, the University signaled the end of altered campus operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement includes a return to the traditional fall schedule, with classes beginning Aug. 19 and Welcome Week kicking off Aug. 14 on move-in day.
This move will affect numerous policies and procedures around campus, including the end of physical distancing requirements; changing the face covering policy from required to optional; a return to the normal academic calendar, including Labor Day, fall break, Thanksgiving break and spring break; fully in-person chapel services; a return to pre-pandemic campus housing visitation policies, including rooms and student lounges; concerts and events without physical distancing; and the full Welcome Week experience for first-time freshmen and transfer students in August. The return to normal operations coincides with the return of fall sports as well as the return of Homecoming, scheduled for Oct. 22-23.
“OBU is committed to a careful and considered return to normal operations on campus for the summer and academic year,” Thomas said. “We closely studied multiple factors to arrive at this mask-optional decision for the OBU campus.”
According to Thomas, the decision to return to normal operations is based upon several factors, including a significantly declining COVID-19 positivity rate in the state and university community, increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates for the state and university community, and the end of mask mandates in Oklahoma City and Shawnee, effective April 30.
“We are excited about this decision and believe it will be welcomed among our students and families. We will continue to work with local agencies, offering opportunities for COVID-19 vaccinations, should members of our OBU community want to take it. We will continue to be cautious and observe trends in COVID-19 positivity and vaccination rates as we move forward. If we have learned anything in this unprecedented year of pandemic, it is our OBU community remains resilient and responsive to changing circumstances. We can make changes to our protocols quickly if environmental realities require us to do so.”
The University has remained vigilant throughout this academic year on maintaining COVID-19 procedures with regards to physical distancing, wearing face coverings, modifying events to ensure physical distancing, and more. As a result, OBU has experienced a low number of COVID-19 cases. In fact, since the beginning of the spring semester in January, the University reported only 21 total cases among employees and students combined, including five weeks with no reported cases.
OBU has continued to offer a vibrant campus life experience for students in spite of the pandemic. The University went to great lengths to modify popular events, such as Freshman Follies, which was held outdoors, and Spring Affair, which used physically distanced reserved seats, in order to make the campus experience as invigorating and fun as possible for the entire student body. Many events were modified in a similar fashion, or alternative events were held, in order to maintain a thriving campus life, even while many other universities went to fully virtual classes and cancelled events without providing alternatives.