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University of Nevada, Reno on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Last updated: March 8th, 2021 - 7:02pm

In one of the first signs of the emerging “new normal” at Nevada’s higher education institutions, UNR President Brian Sandoval announced in a letter Monday that administrators were “actively planning on being back” for the coming fall semester, including increased options for in-person academics and events. 

The announcement comes at the tail end of weeks of decline in reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 in Nevada, and as efforts to vaccinate millions of Americans nationwide continue to accelerate. 

“I hope you share this feeling with me, this moment seems like it is a little different than previous moments during the pandemic,” Sandoval wrote. “Saying we have turned the corner might be going too far. And again, it is important to remember the remarkable effort all of our people have made over the past year to help bring our University through a stressful, disruptive and uncertain time to where we are now ... And now there is real reason for optimism, something more than the cautious optimism we’ve experienced before, to feel that even if there are unexpected fluctuations, we have arrived at a point where finally now is the beginning of a much better time.”

Sandoval attached several caveats to Monday’s announcement, most notably that any increased in-person offerings were still tied to the conditions of the pandemic and the limits put in place by state and county health officials. 

Details provided Monday also stop short of suggesting a full return to normal. A bulleted list of “areas of emphasis” provided in Sandoval’s letter suggests “more students living in our residential halls and eating in our dining hall,” rather than all students. 

Still, those bullet points suggest a widespread — if still somewhat limited — return of staple college experiences, including live performances and public attendance for sporting events, on-campus events and recruitment fairs and on-campus work for students and faculty. 

An opening in the fall would mark more than a year since facilities were essentially shuttered last March amid the sudden onset of the virus in the U.S. 

UNR, alongside Nevada’s other colleges and universities, vastly restricted on-campus activity in accordance with state and local health guidelines — and in so doing, frustrated a number of students who were still saddled with tuition and fees with few amenities to show for it. 

The university took several steps not seen at other schools, however, including an announcement that it would end in-person learning earlier than expected last fall, and that it would cancel its week-long spring break amid concerns that symptomatic students could spread the virus when returning to campus. 

In Las Vegas, UNLV spokesman Tony Allen said Monday that it, too, was "actively planning" for the fall semester, and that officials "expect a majority of courses to be offered in person, with campus facilities and offices open for in-person services as well."

Allen added that the university would "continue to monitor conditions and follow COVID-19 guidelines."

Update, 3/8/2021 at 7:02 p.m. - This story was updated to include comment from UNLV spokesperson Tony Allen.

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