Following President Harring’s June 24 announcement that Muhlenberg plans to welcome students back to campus this fall, the Division of Student Affairs released their schedule for weekly virtual information sessions throughout the month of July. The intent of the webinars is to provide important information, address any questions that students and their families may have and reiterate Muhlenberg’s mission in the wake of the COVID-19 era.
Tuesday, July 7 kicked off the beginning of the webinar series, with a focus on health and safety regarding our return to campus. On the call were Allison Gulati, dean of students, Brynnmarie Dorsey, executive director of health and counseling services, Tim Silvestri, director of counseling services, Michele Paules, coordinator for student support services, and Pamela Moschini, director of disability services.
The majority of health and safety questions on the minds of students and family members who anxiously await our return to campus circled back to testing and quarantine plans. The Division of Student Affairs expressed the importance of being extra diligent in the weeks prior to everyone’s return and announced the release of a new symptom checker, which will be used to monitor one’s health on a daily basis. The application will be made available through the Muhlenberg app, and it will be required that students, faculty and staff make use of the symptom checker two weeks before coming back to campus.
“All Muhlenberg faculty, staff and students will have to do a self-assessment daily of any COVID symptoms. Depending on those answers,they will be told you can come to campus, or you need to see your healthcare provider. Faculty, staff and students who are symptomatic will need to get testing on campus,” Dorsey stated.
The College states that it is prepared to test close contacts of any student who tests positive for the virus while on campus. A number of staff members have completed training to serve as contact tracers and will continue to work closely with the Allentown Health Bureau, local hospitals and the College’s electronic medical records company in order to assure that a highly efficient electronic system is in place.
Gulati announced that Muhlenberg now has access to an analyzer, which will allow for up to four COVID tests per hour to be carried out on campus in the health center. Symptomatic testing will also include onsite temperature monitoring in high traffic areas like the dining hall, Life Sports Center, etc.; however, these efforts fail to account for those who may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Gulati then discussed her hopes for selective asymptomatic testing that “would be particularly in areas where we’re concerned about a risk or an outbreak because of the high risk activity that a group of students may be participating in.”
“We expect positive tests of students, faculty and staff throughout the fall, just like there are in your home communities or in any other closed community that you’re a part of. We will be employing these surveillance strategies to help us really have a sense of the significance of any of those outbreaks,” Gulati said.
Any student on campus who tests positive for COVID or is considered to be a close contact will be required to shelter in a mandatory quarantine location. Gulati disclosed that Muhlenberg is still “working on finalizing the location of our quarantine housing, and we are most likely looking at using a hotel that’s within a mile of the College.”
“Sodexo is prepared to deliver meals to that space three times a day for students… In addition to that, when you arrive in quarantine housing, the Office of Housing and Residence Life will provide you kind of an orientation packet to that space. It will include phone numbers for who to contact in emergencies and other support numbers on campus. We do expect to have campus security onsite at the hotel where quarantine would be happening in the overnight hours,” Gulati explained.
Other students who have long distances to travel will be permitted to occupy quarantine housing as soon as Aug. 9 so that they will be ready for classes (whether they be online or in person) by the start of the semester on Aug. 24, according to Gulati.
Additionally, the quarantine housing option will also be extended to students who live in COVID hotspots. Dorsey noted, “If you live in a hotspot, and right now we’re going by the Pennsylvania guidelines for quarantine, you will have to quarantine for two weeks when you arrive in Pennsylvania.”
If you struggled to wrap your head around the steady flow of new and evolving information, you are not alone; however, it’s needless to say that we will definitely be returning to a different Muhlenberg campus. Tuesday night’s webinar reinforced the message that every member of the Muhlenberg community shares in the responsibility to establish a campus culture that is rooted in education and honest conversation.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Chrysan Cronin, Ph.D., director of the Public Health department, in a separate interview. Cronin emphasized that it is imperative for staff, faculty and students to be adamant about wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining appropriate social distancing upon our arrival–things we should have been doing since our early departure in the spring.
“We’re going to have to rapidly create a campus culture where the stigma is on the person who’s not doing what they’re supposed to,” Cronin said. “If someone is not wearing a mask or wearing it down around their neck or their chin… others, whoever that might be, should feel compelled to say ‘You need to wear your mask right. To protect all of us.’ We’re going to have to have those difficult interactions. It’s life or death now.”
Many students are also approaching the eventual start of the semester with caution and excitement, given that the webinar was attended by a couple hundred students.
“After the webinar, I felt overwhelmed and anxious just simply because of the amount of information that was given and the mass amount of changes that will be occurring for the fall semester,” Cat Duncan ‘23 confessed. “While I feel nervous for the upcoming semester, I think Muhlenberg is handling this situation very carefully and consciously compared to other colleges’ plans of action for the fall. I imagine that with future webinars I will feel less overwhelmed now that I know what to expect.”
The next webinar will be held on Tuesday, July 14 at 6pm to answer questions about housing and residential life. The Weekly will continue to cover any evolving information regarding Fall 2020. Stay tuned for more!