Clemson warns of $100 million loss with COVID-19
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Clemson University officials said Friday the college could lose more than $100 million because of the COVID-19 pandemic while insisting the school is in good enough financial shape to survive the budget blow.
Officials also told trustees that even though in-person classes are being delayed for about a month, they are determined to have safe, face-to-face classes in the fall semester, although classes will be taught so they can also immediately go fully online if the pandemic gets worse.
Provost Bob Jones showed the virtual Board of Trustees meeting a classroom for a large lecture course being put together over basketball courts at a gym with desks all 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
“We fully intend and plan to have our students back on campus,” Clemson University President Jim Clements said.
Clemson now plans to begin in-person classes on Sept. 21 with students returning to campus about a week before. All classes will begin online in mid-August.
The University of South Carolina still plans to bring students back and begin in-person classes next month.
Colleges and universities across the state have been or are considering a delay in face-to-face learning because of a spike in COVID-19 cases that started in early June and has not stopped.
The death toll from the virus in South Carolina is increasing rapidly weeks after cases first started to significantly rise.
The state reported 46 deaths Friday, the fourth deadliest day since the pandemic began in mid-March. South Carolina has averaged nearly 38 deaths a day over the past two weeks, and officials said 1,339 deaths have been directly linked to COVID-19 with 46 still under investigation, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
There were 1,921 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases Friday. The seven- and 14-day average of new cases is finally declining slightly after rising in all but a few days since the end of May, but the state has seen at least 1,500 new cases in all but two days in July.
Clemson officials put all those figures into modeling and determined the college would likely see several thousand COVID-19 cases if the fall semester started on campus in August, said Chip Hood, the chief lawyer for the university.
They also considered that 62% of the workers who clean and disinfect on campus are over age 50, Hood said. COVID-19 is an increasingly dangerous disease as patients get older.
Clemson trustees were also told Friday the university will likely lose $70 million to $135 million from this budget year.
Up to $25 million will be spent on direct COVID-19 expenses, like testing, retrofitting classrooms for social distancing, online learning and safety and other protective equipment, said Tony Wagner, executive vice president for finance and operations.
The school will lose $30 million to $50 million in athletics with the uncertainty if a limited number of fans will be allowed at football games or even if sports will take place. And Clemson will lose $5 million to $20 million because international students can’t attend because of travel bans, Wagner said.
University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen said his school is carefully watching its rival, but it has a different community and level of health care that has been considered when making fall plans.
“Our number one priority, remember, is the health and safety of our students, our faculty and our staff. When we feel that is an unacceptable risk, we will do exactly what Clemson is doing right now. But we aren’t there yet. We think we have risk mitigating factors,” Caslen told an online town hall for students this week.
Clemson will refund 29% of dining and residence hall costs since students are delayed returning to campus. But Wagner said federal financial aid requirements mean the school must bill students the full amount.
Trustee Louis Lynn asked how the refund would be given because during the sudden COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, some students were written checks.
“I had several moms complain that junior was partying because they didn’t know they got he money back,” Lynn said.
Wagner said the money should come directly out of the bills as a credit.
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