By Danny Priest
As Springfield College opens its doors for in-person learning this fall semester, uncertainty looms large over the campus community.
Across the world, there are over 23 million cases of the virus. In America alone there are more than 5 million cases and over 181,000 Americans have lost their lives as of Aug. 25.
That’s more lives lost than in the 9/11 attacks, the Vietnam War and World War I. In fact, if 9/11 occurred for 60 straight days, the death toll still would not exceed the amount of lives coronavirus has claimed.
If that wasn’t enough, this is still ongoing right now. More people are contracting the virus and more people are losing their lives every day.
Colleges across the country are proceeding into an unknown world. Trying to contain the virus on a college campus seems like a near impossible task.
Some of the bigger schools across the country have already opened their doors and they’ve been met with uneasy results.
While right now there may still be many questions and anxieties about returning to campus for both students and their families, Springfield College has gone a long way to ensure safety for those returning to campus this fall.
“I have not faced a challenge of this magnitude during my time as President,” said Mary-Beth Cooper. “The long-term impact of this pandemic is still not realized, but will be with us for years to come.”
Above all else, safety on campus is the main focus. “My greatest concern is the safety of our faculty, staff and students. Faculty and Staff spent countless hours this summer preparing plans to repopulate the campus. We leaned heavily on the prevailing guidance of the CDC and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, now it’s time to execute those plans,” Cooper said.
“My greatest hope is that the Springfield community will comply with the guidelines and be committed to the safety of others. My goal is to provide the best possible learning environment, both inside and outside the classroom to our students. They deserve the unique Springfield College experience,” she added.
Here are some key facts about how our campus will function this fall in the context of the coronavirus:
Springfield College ordered that students traveling to the college from states other than Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Vermont had to fill out the Massachusetts travel form and either quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test that has been given 72 hours prior to arriving in this state.
All undergraduate and graduate students were tested upon their arrival to campus. Springfield College is working in conjunction with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to provide and gather results of COVID-19 testing.
It is also known that each week between 10-20 percent of the student population will be selected at random and tested to identify positive cases among asymptomatic individuals.
Students who express symptoms of COVID-19 or come into contact with another individual who has COVID will be tested by the Health Center and the results will be analyzed by BayState Reference Lab.
Any student who is COVID positive will either go home or remain on campus in supported isolation housing. Students must remain off campus or in isolation until they are fever free for 24 hours without the aid of medicine, symptoms have improved and 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms.
The school also has a trained campus contact tracing team working in partnership with the Springfield Department of Public Health and the Health Center to identify anyone who has had direct exposure to someone with COVID-19.
This fall’s academic calendar for Springfield College will include in-person learning from Monday, Aug. 31 through Friday, Nov. 20. The lone exception to that schedule is that the first week of classes will be held entirely online to allow for results of initial COVID testing to come back.
Classes, as well as final exams, will be held remotely from Monday, Nov. 30 to Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Both classrooms and labs have been altered to make social distancing possible.
Roughly half of classes will be in the face-to-face format and the other half remotely. Classroom capacity has been reduced, ventilation systems have been tested, air filters replaced and air ducts cleaned among other changes to ensure safety in class at all times.
Life on campus
All residence halls on campus now have designated entrances and exits complete with directional signs. Plexiglas barriers have been installed at the reception desks and hand sanitizer stations are at every entrance.
Elevator capacity in the halls are restricted to a lower number of people than in the past. No guests from outside of Springfield College (family included) will be allowed in the residence halls at any time.
Students are permitted to have one Springfield College visitor (a fellow classmate) at a time in their residence hall.
Bathrooms are receiving enhanced cleaning, lounges have reduced capacity, water fountains are not in service, residence hall kitchens are closed, communal games removed, and laundry usage is scheduled at a limited capacity.
Dining on campus will also look different for the fall 2020 semester. Harvest Table, the new dining partner for the college, will be training staff on new rules and expectations.
Internal traffic flow in Cheney dining hall will be controlled, the buffet style dining of the past has been eliminated, “grab and go” meals will be available and the capacity of the dining hall has been reduced and altered for social distancing.
Students may use the Wellness & Recreation complex on campus, but they must follow rules to do so. Face masks must be worn at all times in the building and cover the area from under the chin to above the nose.
The Wellness Center will be open at 40 percent capacity. If that number is reached, the area will be closed until one person leaves and another is allowed to enter.
Equipment has been altered to allow for social distancing and machines marked with an orange cone are unavailable for use.
Those in the Wellness Center must clean machines and equipment before and after use with disinfectant. Lockers will not be available for use. Locker rooms are open with a mask requirement, water fountains are not in use and equipment is unable to be checked out.
No intercollegiate athletic competitions will take place during the fall 2020 semester at Springfield College.
Teams and student-athletes will be afforded the opportunity to practice together, take part in strength and conditioning workouts and use resources such as athletic counseling and sports psychology.
“The difficult decision was made with President Cooper and in concert with our primary conference affiliation (NEWMAC) with the safety of our student-athletes and the greater campus community in mind,” Director of Athletics Craig Poisson said of the decision to cancel the fall season.
“We are grateful that the opportunity to train and practice remains, as we plan to continue to actively engage with all of our student-athletes this term following all proper protocols,” he added.
The National Picture
Springfield College will not be the first school to open their campus back to students. Numerous schools across the country have done so and some are already sending students back home for the semester.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began its semester on Monday, Aug. 10. Per the University’s website, the school is home to roughly 19,000 undergrads and close to 4,000 faculty members.
Within a week, the school had 130 confirmed COVID infections among their students and five infections among faculty.
According to an article by the school’s newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, parties that were held over the opening weekend are at least part of the cause for the outbreaks. As a result, just one week into their semester, students had to make arrangements to travel home.
UNC isn’t alone either. Oklahoma State University saw 23 sorority members in an off-campus house test positive for the virus. The University of Tennessee returned and immediately had 28 active cases and more than 150 individuals isolated in quarantine.
Dr. James Phillips, a physician and assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital was asked by CNN whether colleges should be opening right now. This was his response:
“Are colleges safe in general to open up right now? I would say probably not.”
This issue isn’t just affecting the large state schools either. Locally, many schools have had to adjust as well. Smith College in Northampton, MA originally planned to bring back the student population at half capacity for the fall.
Smith reversed their plan and is now holding the fall semester in a fully online capacity, citing the continued rising infection rate in the country and the trouble other colleges have had opening their campuses.
The risk of re-opening college campuses is real and prevalent. It takes commitment from all sides involved to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Off-campus partying, hanging out in bars and acting as if a worldwide pandemic is not going on will not allow people to stay on campus for the full semester.
No one knows what these next three months have in store, but Springfield College has put a dedicated plan into place; now it is on the members of the campus community to follow it and keep one another safe.
All information obtained was courtesy of the Springfield College COVID-19 Information page, Yahoo! and CNN.
Photo: Springfield College Marketing and Communications