How Colleges and Universities Are Adapting During The Pandemic
September 2, 2020
Colleges and universities are facing a daunting dilemma across the country for the fall semester. Like elementary, middle and high schools, they are faced with the task of deciding which is the best way to educate their students and keep them and their faculty and staff healthy during the Pandemic.
Some have gone back with face-to-face classes only, a hybrid of face-to-face and online and online only. Results are wide ranging. As of August 27, Bloomsburg University has the largest number of cases at a college or university in Northeastern Pennsylvania with 89 students and 1 employee being reported as testing positive for the virus. A further breakdown shows that 14 are on campus, 67 off campus and 8 are isolated at home. Tom McGuire, Director of Media Relations and Content Strategy, couldn’t be reached for comment.
According to the university’s website, the university is taking the following steps to help mitigate the impact of the virus: requirement of wearing masks; an online “health checker” where members of the community answer questions about their health on a daily basis. If they meet the requirements, they can display a badge on their mobile device giving them the “all clear” or they can print out a copy; a dedicated COVID-19 testing facility for students who are exhibiting COVID-related symptoms. The university has also set aside 72 rooms on-campus to allow for safe isolation or quarantine for students who test positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to individuals with known or suspected/possible COVID-19.
The University of Scranton’s last report on August 23 shows that five students have tested positive and are in isolation. Three students reported symptoms and are in isolation pending test results. University contact tracers identified and notified 17 students who needed to quarantine as per established protocols. No employees tested positive but three employees reported the need to quarantine due to possible exposure outside the University. Seven employees are in quarantine as instructed by contact tracers.
Stan Zygmunt, Director of News and Media Relations for the university, says they are taking similar measures as Bloomsburg University. “We are promoting social distancing, masks and good hygiene. We have also closed the campus to the general public and have set up the ballroom and auditorium for instruction. Plexiglass has also been put in high traffic areas. We have also started testing on August 24 for students on campus, faculty and staff. We plan on giving 1200 tests a week. People can be tested three times or more the rest of the semester. We also have a wellness app that asks a series of questions related to any symptoms someone might have,” he said.
The university has a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and fully remote classes. Zygmunt said they planned on an opening date of August 31 but bumped it up to August 17. “We eliminated some holidays and will complete finals before Thanksgiving. We are hoping to be on campus until then but we can adapt as needed.” He said there are expectations both on and off campus for students and there are ways of reporting issues if protocol is not being followed. But, he said most students are taking it seriously, “Everyone realizes the situation. Students love their college. They want to be here. We are trying to keep our community as safe as possible.”
King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, is the anomaly among colleges and universities. They have 0 cases, including students, faculty and staff. They are following the same protocols with masks, social distancing and an online symptom checker. Dr. Thomas Landon, Executive Director of Enrollment Data Operations said the college has also purchased additional buildings for classes to be held that will allow for the social distancing requirements. Along with face-to-face classes, the college is using Barco for the online portion of hybrid and all online classes. Dr. Landon calls it “Zoom on steroids.” He said there are quarantine areas set up just in case and while he didn’t want to mention specifics, there is a backup plan in place if cases rose dramatically. “We have to get through this. This is our goal and priority right now. Keeping everyone healthy. Everyone is very supportive. The kids want to be back in school. It is a growing time for them. After six weeks of the spring semester, everything was gone (due to the shutdown). They haven’t seen their friends in six months. They will still go to parties and we hope they will be safe as they can be,” Dr Landon said. He also noted that their enrollment is consistent. “We didn’t lose any kids. We are happy with that. The staff did a good job,” he said.