LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's public and private colleges are forging ahead with plans to resume in-person classes this month but will take new steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, top administrators said Monday.

Representatives for Nebraska's three state colleges and 13 private colleges said students will see socially distanced classrooms, less strict attendance policies and mask mandates on campuses throughout the state. Colleges are also planning on-campus temperature screenings.

“Overall, I'm extremely optimistic that we're going to do the right things," said Paul Turman, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System.

The system includes the publicly funded Chadron, Peru and Wayne State Colleges. The University of Nebraska, which is separate from the state colleges, outlined similar plans for its fall classes last month.

Turman said the state colleges are adopting a less strict attendance policy this coming semester, and won't penalize students for not coming to class. Classes are also starting in mid-August, a week earlier than normal, and the semester is set to end just before Thanksgiving.

Nebraska Wesleyan University President Darrin Good said his school is imposing strict mask requirements on campus and reducing the number of desks in classrooms to try to keep the virus from spreading. Good said the private university in Lincoln is working with local health departments to provide coronavirus tests when needed.

He said most students have voiced support for the decision to revert back to in-person classes after the switch to online-only earlier this year.

“Having students come back for face-to-face classes and that campus experience is absolutely essential," he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said state officials will use contract tracing on any students who test positive for the virus to determine who may have been exposed on campus.

Nebraska officials have confirmed 28,432 coronavirus cases and 345 deaths since the pandemic began, although the actual number is likely higher because some people haven't gotten tested. A total of 302,926 people have been tested so far, and state officials confirmed 187 new cases on Sunday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.

Nebraska currently has 41% of its hospital beds available and 82% of its ventilators available, according to the state's online tracking portal.


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