BYU will hold classes in person this fall — with all students required to wear masks

Brigham Young University plans to welcome students back for in-person classes this fall — joining the other major colleges in the state in returning to campus despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The private university in Provo announced its plans Tuesday morning, saying that the return will be gradual, at least at first, for the upcoming semester starting in August. Class sizes will be kept small for those coming back. And many courses will be a combination of face-to-face and online learning.

“Fall semester 2020 will begin, and perhaps remain, unlike any other semester at BYU,” said the school’s President Kevin Worthen in a letter to students and staff.

The university, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been the last holdout after Utah’s eight public colleges and one other private school, Westminster, already unveiled similar plans last month. BYU said it had planned to wait to see how the virus spread this summer.

The decision comes now, though, one day after the single biggest daily jump so far in virus cases in Utah County with 127 positive cases reported Monday. The county, as a whole, has had more than 3,000 cases and the state more than 18,000.

Worthen said the school will continue to watch the numbers and all plans remain “subject to change.”

Classes had first moved online in March to avoid spreading the coronavirus. When they return this fall, there will be significant changes to prevent outbreaks, he added. Safety, Worthen said, is still “just as important and just as challenging” now.

All student at BYU will be required to wear face masks when in a classroom or university building. And the school will transition all classes and final exams online after Thanksgiving break to wrap up the semester.

The idea there is that students will travel throughout the country to visit family. There’s potential for them to bring the virus back to campus if they were to return — especially during a time already considered prime for the regular flu. (The University of Utah is similarly moving to remote teaching after the break.)

Additionally, students and staff who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus will have expanded options to learn and teach entirely from home, the school said in its announcement, so that no one has to be on campus if they don’t want to be.

For those who do, though, BYU will allow students back to on-campus dorms, but moving in will be done in phases to avoid large gatherings. Activities and events, too, will be limited for the semester.

The school will provide some testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people — in the hopes of catching any outbreaks.

“For this to succeed, we all have to play our part,” Worthen added. “The BYU mission statement says that all relationships within the BYU community should reflect ‘a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor.’ Certainly that can be our motivation for wearing a face covering, washing our hands often, and staying home when we’re sick.”

The plan, so far, does not say much about extra sanitation. The school intends to announce more details before classes start in two months. Updates can be found at byu.edu/coronavirus.

BYU has not made any decisions yet for winter semester.