First coronavirus case at the college reported Tuesday

College of Eastern Idaho has begun laying out classrooms, both traditional and makeshift, to prepare for students returning to campus this fall.

The majority of the hands-on trade classes and about a third of the general education classes at CEI will be held in-person beginning Aug. 24. All other courses will be held online to work around the limited space for classes and some students’ preference to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

College spokesman Todd Wightman said the school had been expanding its ability to offer online classes and degrees before the coronavirus-related shutdowns pushed things more dramatically in that direction.

“We were forced to jump into that world sooner than we were prepared to do last spring, but our faculty has stepped up to the issue,” Wightman said.

Even before most teachers and students have returned to campus, the first coronavirus case has already been reported at CEI. The college reported Tuesday that someone who had been on campus during the mornings of Aug. 3 and 4 had since tested positive for the coronavirus. The college did not release additional details about who had tested positive but were planning to directly contact anyone who had been potentially exposed to them this week.

Summer classes at CEI, which ended last weekend, were held entirely online this year. The number of enrolled students was up 50% from last year, going from around 400 students to 600.

Many colleges across Idaho are expecting to see fewer students this fall, whether because they cannot afford to attend college or due to public health limitations. College of Southern Idaho expects to see a 5% decline in enrollment this year, while North Idaho College’s enrollment is down nearly 10%.

College of Eastern Idaho, however, is projecting to see a slight increase in its student population this fall over last year. College officials credit the relatively rosier outlook to the continuation of recent enrollment trends and the value offered by the school.

“I think you can’t beat our price if you’re just taking online classes, and our credits and degrees can transfer to our sister universities in Idaho,” college executive liaison Amanda Logan said.

Smaller classrooms will be closed entirely, as they would only be able to hold five or six students at a time. Larger lecture rooms have had their capacity cut by a third or more. Maintenance staff used a six-foot length of PVC to measure the distance between seats, putting paper signs on ones that students are asked not to use.

“It really becomes a lot smaller once you measure out that six-feet circle in every direction,” Logan said.

To accommodate the larger classes that are still being held, the college will be turning other locations on campus into temporary classrooms. The central section of the library has been set up to hold classes in the mornings and will be available for regular visits in the afternoon. The school’s cafeteria will be similarly restricted, with space for students to pick up meals but the tables reserved for lessons.

The college board of trustees voted last week to require masks for all students and visitors to the campus. College-branded cloth face coverings have been ordered for students, while teachers will be provided with clear face shields to make it easier for them to lecture and work with students.

Logan said the issue of mask compliance will be treated as a concern for student conduct. People who repeatedly refuse to wear a mask at the college could be escorted off campus or be moved to online classes to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection for other students.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.