By Olivia Sothoron
On Thursday, Sept. 17, Tuajuanda Jordan sent out an email to the entire St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) community announcing that the administration would be holding a Town Hall in regards to the College’s response to the new COVID-19 cases emerging on campus. President Jordan, as well as Provost Michael Wick, Wellness Center Director Laurie Scherer, Dean Derek Young, Vice President for Business and Chief Financial Officer Paul Pusecker and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer addressed concerns over the Zoom call.
Jordan explained that the way in which the College monitors the status of COVID-19 cases on campus relies upon the college community’s positivity rate for four consecutive days, the positivity rate for two consecutive weeks, the quarantine isolation capacity as well as the county and state conditions. Throughout the meeting, Jordan kept emphasizing that “no one factor will cause the transition to remote learning.”
One hopeful remark from Jordan during the meeting was that the College is not yet in a position that has made the administration begin to consider transitioning to fully remote learning. She continued that if the College does at some point come to this decision to go fully remote, they will work with the residential population to continue addressing the needs of students who have no place to go.
In order to clear up confusion and to address questions which are frequently asked of the administration, Scherer explained the difference between various terms which are associated with the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She defined “isolation” as “what happens to somebody who has COVID-19 and is a way to keep them away from the population.” “Quarantine,” on the contrary, is for “someone who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. These people are to isolate, assess their symptoms and monitor their health.” She defined “close contact” as being “within six feet of someone for longer than 15 minutes,” and most close contact will be eliminated through the use of masks.
Scherer also announced that the Wellness Center would begin conducting surveillance testing beginning on Sept. 20. An email will be sent out to randomly selected SMCM students–both residential and commuters–faculty and staff to be tested at an on-campus site. The point of surveillance testing, Jordan explained, is to look at the asymptomatic population in order to mitigate the spread of the virus by those who are not displaying symptoms. The surveillance testing is set up through the University of Maryland System and it promises results within 48 hours. University of Maryland Baltimore County is the primary vendor for all on-campus testing in all of Maryland.
After the administrators spoke, Jordan opened the meeting up for questions. One of the questions asked was in regards to the campus’ decision to continue to allow tours, while preventing friends and family members of students from visiting campus. The administrators explained that the College is only allowing one tour per tour guide at all times, families must wear a mask and must maintain social distance at all times and visitors are asked to complete the symptom check and use hand sanitizer upon entrance. In addition, tours have been shortened to reduce the number of indoor locations that the prospective students visit, and all restrooms are off limits except for the restrooms in the Admissions Building. Tours are continuing in order to “provide the support for prospective students to see campus in a restricted way.”
Another question asked was in regards to the College’s ability to ensure that students are abiding by isolation requests. Director Scherer explained that any student who has tested positive or has symptoms is asked to isolate in a specific unit. In addition, the Wellness Center staff is in contact with the students in isolation daily in order to check in to see how they are doing. Students who test positive also have the option to go home. She also mentioned that a person living with someone who has tested positive should also be quarantined.
These are very challenging and stressful times and it is important that everyone takes the proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, there are various sources across campus to provide help to students, staff and faculty. Scherer remarked: “Watch your health, use the symptom checker and make sure that you are doing okay. If you have any questions, please let [the Wellness Center] know. We care about your health and safety.”
All of the information regarding the College’s procedures for handling COVID-19 can be found on the COVID-19 dashboard on the SMCM website.