Approximately 60 percent of the student body made their official return to campus about a week and a half ago, signaling the start to the 2021 Spring semester and what begins a 15-week-long battery of COVID-19 testing for not just students, but faculty as well.
It has been reported that of the 60 percent already returned to campus, 18 people have already tested positive for COVID-19. Though disheartening, this does not necessarily come as a surprise, as cases locally and nationally have been rising at accelerated, unprecedented rates.
Christine Johnston, Assistant Director of Campus Recreation, Alcohol & Other Drug Education and Health Promotion at Springfield, said the 18 positive cases did not come as a surprise to the school — rather, they were predicted.
“We know we’re in a different place now, than we were in August and September when we started the school year,” stated Johnston. “There’s more cases in the community, the test positivity rate is much higher, and we’re also just testing more. We’re definitely expecting more cases upon coming back than we did in the fall.”
There is a new testing area for students and faculty — the baseball annex, behind the Health Center, has been converted into the “testing annex.” This now ensures comfort and stability for testing, especially given the newly-instated protocol of weekly testing for all students. This annex will also be indoors, a change from the outdoor tents of last semester.
“Every student is going to be tested every single week, with automatic consequences for missing a week of testing,” said Johnston. “So, it’s important for students to come on their assigned day. Those blocks are much bigger, in time, and there’s also the opportunity to make up your test.”
Johnston wanted students to be aware that if they miss their test, they do have the chance to make it up during the first hour that testing is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.
Consequences for a missed test date without a make-up test, for a first offense, will mean a student must quarantine in their room and are not permitted to attend any in-person classes, nor enter any buildings on campus other than their residence hall. A second offense will result in a $100 fine, and a third offense will result in a two-week suspension from on-campus housing and all on-campus activities, including in-person classes.
If any student wishes to be on campus, they must be included in the weekly testing protocol. This means students who have chosen to complete their 2021 academic year at home will not be permitted on campus; this will prevent unnecessary and uncontained spread of the virus to those residing on campus, therefore prohibiting an outbreak.
As for quarantine housing, for the unlucky few who will test positive this semester, Johnston assured that the housing will be much more accommodating to the need of space for positive students.
“We expanded, significantly, for housing our students who need to be in supported isolation, or supported quarantine housing. The entirety of Lakeside, anybody who was living there in the fall, we appreciate them and thank them very much for relocating over winter break,” Johnston said.
“There is nobody, currently, permanently living in Lakeside… We’ve also done some consolidation on some of our spaces, so some of our suite-style living has been consolidated where we’re able to accommodate for additional quarantine spaces. The other piece is that quarantine, in the state of Massachusetts, has been reduced to 10 days from 14 days, so people are getting out of quarantine a few days earlier, and that helps both on our capacity to house everyone on campus, but also it’s just a better experience for the students.”
Johnston said that the key for the Springfield College community to be able to stay on campus for the entirety of the Spring semester will be keeping groups small. She suggested keeping “pods” of who students hang out with to a small group.
“You, and a few friends that you trust, and make that your pod, and those are the folks that you’re with close contact on an everyday basis. That’s going to have a huge impact on our ability to stay on campus,” stated Johnston.
Not only will students need to be aware of the behavioral expectations they must follow while living on campus (including, but not limited to, masks worn at all times outside of personal residential rooms, no guests on campus, and following the occupancy limits within residential rooms), but they also need to be aware of the impact their actions could have while off-campus. Attending a party or any kind of gathering off-campus could lead to a massive breakout of COVID-19 cases, therefore putting the rest of everyone else’s on-campus semester in jeopardy.
“There’s a big difference between going to the grocery store, going to Target and Walmart and getting what you need and coming back and abiding by all policies, versus going to hang out at another college or university, or going to spend time with friends at home,” said Johnston.
“We know that those are significantly higher risk than going to the pharmacy, or going to the grocery store.”
However, there will be no penalties for students leaving campus, as Springfield College is not acting as a closed environment. It would be difficult for the campus to completely bubble off into its own community, especially because of commuter students and faculty that return home every night. Instead, the school is asking students to cooperate in limiting exposure to the virus off-campus. They are also asking students to be masked and physically distanced while getting their essentials off-campus.
For any further questions or concerns regarding COVID-19 policies and procedures, Johnston suggested visiting Springfield College’s official website, www.springfield.edu, and clicking on the green banner at the top of the homepage. Housed there is COVID-19 information that is updated regularly, along with a cumulative dashboard and many more resources.
Photo: Jack Margaros/The Student