Written By: Angelie Roche
As knowledge about COVID-19 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) evolves, new protocols and standards are constantly being put in place by college administration and the Wellness Center. The newest procedure is surveillance testing, which began on September 20 after a recommendation by SMCM President Jordan. According to the St. Mary’s website, this means that a random sampling of college students, faculty and staff will be tested every two weeks between now and the end of the semester. Once an individual is chosen, they will be removed from the pool and will not be tested again. The rationale behind this policy is that it provides a clearer picture of how the St. Mary’s community is handling the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole, rather than solely relying on symptomatic individuals’ reports.
Director of the Wellness Center Laurie Scherer says that the college administration decided to enact the policy using information from the University of Maryland system schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Maryland health departments in order to “choose the best approaches to assessing the risk of COVID-19 on our campus.” She views surveillance testing not as an added burden, but as the next step in measuring community positivity rates, a process designed to keep St. Mary’s students, faculty and staff safe and healthy.
At the beginning of the fall semester, many colleges and universities across the United States announced a myriad of different reopening policies that they believed would keep their students and campuses safe. However, some of those policies proved to be ineffective over time, with large universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill closing just a week after re-opening, costing students and the college itself millions of dollars in losses. For those afraid that SMCM will have a similar fate, though, it is clear St. Mary’s has taken extra measures to ensure community safety throughout the semester. First, the College had students show proof of a negative test before they came to campus and enacted a phased reopening policy, which significantly lowered the possibility of community spread in the first few weeks. The new surveillance testing policy, in addition to safety procedures which are already in place, is meant to measure ongoing risk as the semester progresses.
When asked about the possibility of the campus shutting down, Scherer assures that the decision to send students home would “not be made lightly.” There is no one event or set number of cases that would cause St. Mary’s to close its doors; rather, it is a decision that would be made on a case-by-case basis. One important factor would be a spike in cases or a clear increased risk, which surveillance testing helps to indicate. She urges that students should continue to follow the COVID-19 procedures put in place in order to keep our number of cases low. Scherer also wished to remind students that the Wellness Center is providing a 24/7 helpline available during this uniquely stressful time, which has St. Mary’s therapists available at all hours of the day. It can be reached at 240-895-4200.