President Patrick F. Leahy Ed.D., outlined a series of changes to campus operations and health protocols in response to a rise in confirmed University cases, in a video message on Friday, Oct. 5.
“Over the last week, we’ve seen a concerning increase in the number of cases, which led… to a whole series of protocols that would help to restrict the amount of activity on campus and hopefully mitigate the spread of this terrible virus,” Leahy said.
These protocols, detailed in an email sent to the campus community on Friday, Oct. 2, require all courses other than labs and clinical experiences to be delivered remotely until Friday, Oct. 16. Clubs, organizations, and intramural/recreational activities must also be conducted virtually.
“At the end of that two week period, we’ll roll right into the fall break,” Leahy said. “We have decided that we will keep our fall break this year. We feel it’s important to give you students that opportunity to restore and to re-energize for the second half of the semester.”
During this time, Leahy “urges” students not to travel in any way over the fall break. Students who are living in residence halls, off campus homes, apartments and commuting should stay home during this period, Leahy said.
“We have to do everything we can to limit the amount of movement on and off the campus, not only over the next two weeks, but also over that important fall break period at the middle part of the month,” Leahy said.
Masks will be required on campus at all times, indoor and outdoor. Gatherings of any kind with greater than 5 people will be prohibited, and dining services will be limited to takeout and socially distanced outdoor seating only, with zero indoor seating.
Other restrictions include the closure of the campus pool and fitness center, as well as University athletic team activities only being permitted to individual and small group training of 5 or fewer people. University-sponsored athletic practices or competition will not be permitted during this period.
The University will also be temporarily closed to all visitors, including prospective students and their families hoping to tour the campus.
“We, as an administration, will continue to ramp up our testing as required in order to try to stay ahead of the curve on this coronavirus,” Leahy said.
Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement, revealed cases rose after University contact tracers discovered two groups of students holding off campus gatherings. Students who lived on campus were part of these gatherings, and returned to campus after COVID-19 exposure.
“When [the students] came back to campus, [the cases] began to rise exponentially,” Nagy said. “We were pretty good for awhile, as the COVID Dashboard had shown, but we are now at the point where we have to take a break socially.”
The spread of the virus does not appear to necessarily occur in classrooms, Nagy explained. Desks are socially distant from one another, students and faculty are wearing masks correctly, and surfaces are being wiped down.
“I think it shows that if we follow those very simple rules, we can be safe,” Nagy explained. “What has to stop is gatherings off campus that students attend and then come back to campus, as they may be sick and it starts to spread.”
Nagy urges students to consider the health, safety and personal time of their peers when making a decision to attend an off campus gathering. “For students who are saying, ‘I’m doing as much as I can,’ at some point those students need to get to their peers and express they’re ruining it for the rest of us.”
Nagy says in theory, the first time the University could begin to consider lessening restrictions would be Oct. 21, when students return from fall break. Administration will review case numbers and COVID-19 positivity projections to determine steps moving forward.
A return to indoor dining, opening the fitness center and having in person classes are ideas that will be considered over the next few weeks as case numbers are watched. “Hopefully we’ll see these numbers, both in terms of cases and people in quarantine, start to go down because we’ve broken the chain a little bit here,” Nagy said.
Students living on campus are not allowed to visit other residence halls “under the COVID-19 environment we’re in,” and visitors are only allowed from a student’s own residence hall.
“Whenever you have two people sharing the same space, whether it’s a residence hall room, an apartment, or even an office, there has to be a mutual respect and understanding for where each other are coming from,” Nagy said.
Nagy stressed the University administration wants students to be on campus, as “we are a better campus when we’re all here and we are able to participate,” Nagy said.
Properly worn masks must be worn at all times on campus, indoor or outdoor, Leahy’s new protocols said.
“Before, you would see students walking by themselves on campus, and they would not have a mask on,” Nagy said. “That is no longer going to be acceptable. We continue to try to talk to students and remind them about the importance of constantly wearing a mask, which is why we’ve now asked students to wear a mask no matter where you are, unless you are in your private bedroom or private office.”
Leahy hopes these actions will help to slow the spread of infection and allow the University to resume our fall semester as planned, he said in his email addressed to the campus community.
“I will continue to keep you informed by sharing updates as they become available,” Leahy said. “Please remember to visit our COVID-19 website for the most current and comprehensive campus information. And, if you have questions, please feel free to direct them to FallRestart@monmouth.edu. Staff members are standing by to answer your questions as quickly as possible. Thank you in advance for your continued cooperation and flexibility during this challenging time.”
PHOTOS COURTESY of Anthony DePrimo