Safe Campus

Safe Campus Living During COVID-19

When the University announced its plan to reopen and allow for students to return to the dorms, naturally, questions arose as to the safety of doing so. Traditionally starting semesters in the fall, New Jersey has had the luxury of observing how other schools handled the global pandemic, on campus and off. The Tampa Bay Times recently reported the University of Tampa had drawn big COVID-19 numbers amongst its residential students, despite being a small private school like Monmouth University.

When a student makes the decision to return to campus living, it comes with a multitude of issues and concerns that must be addressed. For one, how at risk can you actually become? For this answer, we can turn to the Monmouth COVID-19 Dashboard. Updated daily by 4 p.m., the dashboard tracks confirmed COVID-19 cases among employees working on campus, residential students and non-residential students, as well as the amount of University-sponsored beds occupied by students currently in isolation or quarantine.

“Based on the most recent test results, including self-reported and university-conducted testing, today we are reporting 36 new confirmed cases,” President Leahy stated to the Monmouth community in an email sent on Monday, Sep. 28. “While the overall numbers are still small relative to our campus population, it is a notable increase over the 39 total confirmed cases reported on Friday, September 25. While we continue to monitor the situation closely, we are fortunate that none of the confirmed cases has resulted in hospitalization. Moreover, we have seen no evidence of transmission of the virus from students to faculty or staff members. As of today, we have not identified any confirmed cases among graduate students.”

In response to the rise in cases, the University has “immediately” expanded its contact tracking efforts and have increased the use of strategic surveillance testing, Leahy said. The implementation of additional health and safety measures are to be expected soon, following the conversation Leahy had with the public health official from the Monmouth Regional Health Commission, as well as faculty, staff and student leadership on campus.

In order to wade the waters of the COVID-19 pandemic during your time living on the University campus, it is important to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect between you and your roommates. For starters, establish the strangers you are comfortable interacting with on a daily basis. Who can and cannot enter your vicinity, whether or not they have permission from your roommate? If your roommate is the type to go out to bars and restaurants, have a discussion regarding risks and concerns related to the subject. If your roommate acts in a way that makes you feel uneasy or unsafe, speak your mind about it, and hopefully enough mutual respect has been established that they won’t endanger the integrity of the house you two share.

Not being afraid to share responsibilities during the pandemic is important to a healthy roommate relationship as well. “I strongly urge all members of the campus community to reaffirm their commitment to personal health and safety practices in order to keep Monmouth Strong,” Leahy said in his email to the University community. Establishing a frequent cleaning routine of common surfaces utilized by all members of the house is a good practice, not only for the immediate benefits of having a more healthy home, but it helps to remind the person cleaning about the severity of the pandemic.

You should also attempt to minimize the amount of time spent in the same room as your roommate. Common areas such as the living room and kitchen should be used more sparingly than before the pandemic in order to maximize the odds of not contracting the virus.

As new cases rise in and around campus, it is also important to have some type of contingency plan in place, should a time come in which you must move to a new location. Share the COVID-Dashboard with friends and family members you could possibly move in with if the University were to transition fully remote. However, even if the University were not to cancel, you could still leave the dorm for a variety of other reasons.

“Right now we have over 1350 students who are living with us on campus, which is about 66 percent of our housing being utilized for the fall semester,” Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life said in an open call aimed to help students understand the University’s fall reopening plan. “We do have students who have deferred their housing contracts to the spring, but many of them have decided to defer, not to cancel those contracts.”

Any students who are dissatisfied “….at any point in the semester” with their on-campus housing experience will be allowed to leave housing and receive a refund on a “prorated basis” for any unused portion of room and board from that point until the end of the semester, Nagy said.

“If a student does not decide to start with us and instead wants to defer their housing to the spring, we will guarantee that their room, their building, and their roommate will remain intact for them to come to us in the spring,” Nagy said.

Damian Warchol, a sophomore communications major who lives in on-campus housing, feels as though he has established a good sense of mutual understanding and respect between him and his roommate.

“At the end of the day, he understands what he does will also affect me, and I feel the same way towards him,” Warchol said. “We both agreed not to go to any parties, bars, or anything like that. We weren’t the type of people to do that in the first place, but now with [the Coronavirus], we’re doubly not doing it.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Anthony DePrimo