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President of Texas Tech University ready for reopening despite surge in coronavirus cases in state

Many colleges and universities are preparing for students to return in the fall, but with the recent surge of coronavirus cases ripping through the nation, many parents and students are left wondering if these added precautions will keep the spikes at bay on campuses.

Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock, Texas, is one institution that is moving forward with plans for face-to-face classes come Aug. 24, but its president, Dr. Lawrence Schovanec, says they are prepared to pivot should the situation call for it.

“The ultimate success of our planning will in a large part depend on the behavior of the students. How they respect the issues of social distancing and the safety measures they take when they’re not on campus,” Schovanec told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview.

Campus will not look the same for students returning to the West Texas university. Schovanec has implemented an array of new guidelines, including face mask requirements in campus buildings and dining facilities by all students, faculty and staff, reduced capacity in classrooms and laboratories, and reduced occupancy in dorms.

To test out some of these new protocols, TTU welcomed around 350 students and 30 faculty members for a summer session that began on July 7.

“It’s gone very well,” Schovanec said. “Now, I would be cautious in trying to extrapolate from 350 students to something close to 40,000, but it gives us some confidence that the plans and policies we have in place can work.”

Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, United States.

The university president said that out of those 350 students, there have been no reports of a positive COVID-19 test. But with the start of classes scheduled to resume in about five weeks, Schovanec wants to make sure that they don’t get into a position where the university becomes a hot spot like certain businesses and bars were earlier this summer in Texas.

As of July 23 Texas has 361,125 COVID-19 cases, up 23 percent from one week ago.

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“We want to stay open. We want to do everything we can to provide the students with the experience that they’ve expressed that they want, and that includes public events, lectures, performances, but also athletics,” Schovanec said.

TTU is known for its talented collegiate sports, particularly football, a NCAA Division I program in the Big 12 Conference. It’s a fall sport many are hoping will return come September.

“The last executive order from Gov. Abbott was 50 percent capacity for our football games this fall, and that’s still in place so we’re doing modeling around that 50 percent capacity as we go into the fall,” director of athletics Kirby Hocutt said.

Playing to a stadium half-empty may not only hinder the energy from Red Raiders fans, but it will also deepen the budget holes the university already faces.

According to Schovanec, the coronavirus pandemic has cost the school about $65 million since March – and that doesn’t include the impact it has had on the athletic department.

Hocutt said he planned their fiscal 2021 budget $7 million lower than he did last year based on fan apprehension and the current economic downturn, but had to make an additional $10 million adjustment when he learned that stadiums could only be half-filled with patrons.

“That has been extremely difficult. When you talk about $17 million off of your $93 million budget, that is significant. Those are some significant changes,” Hocutt said.

The Red Raiders are set to kick off their first 2020 football game at the University of Texas at El Paso on Sept. 5.

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“We continue to be prepared should we have to do more, and we continue to navigate so many unknowns and uncertainties and we just have to be prepared for choppy waters ahead,” Hocutt said.

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