With the Fall 2020 semester beginning in the midst of a global pandemic, Muhlenberg opened its doors to first-year students as well as some upperclassmen who had exceptional circumstances. It seemed that Muhlenberg was keeping COVID cases mostly under control with ten percent of the student body being randomly “surveillance tested” each week and symptomatic testing being performed as needed. The College’s COVID-19 dashboard reflects only four coronavirus cases between the first round of testing performed on Aug. 24 and the testing completed on Nov. 11.
On Nov. 11, an additional two COVID cases were announced, as well as 22 students being moved into quarantine. The College moved from alert Level 1, entitled “New Normal,” to Level 2, “moderate alert.” This also entailed a reversion back to “Phase 1” of the housing policy, meaning students would no longer be able to visit each other’s buildings or dorm rooms.
Following this change in alert level, the College performed drop-in COVID testing on Friday, Nov. 13. On this day, 252 tests were performed, compared to the previous high of 110 tests. 11 new COVID cases were uncovered, and an additional six students were moved into quarantine. It was announced via email and a 911Muhlenberg text notification that the College had now moved into Level 3, “high alert.” This entailed a shelter-in-place, the move to all take-out dining and all buildings being closed except for Seegers Union to pick up meals.
While most students had originally planned to move out between Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22, many students changed their plans and departed quickly upon the news of the shelter-in place.
Emily Orlich ‘24 said, “I was very scared when I heard about the change in alert level for COVID on campus… I chose to leave early because I felt unsafe and I didn’t want to be alone in my dorm.”
“I was very scared when I heard about the change in alert level for COVID on campus.”
Kailie Strutin ‘23 echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “I was scared because I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I chose to go home because I didn’t want to feel alone and isolated on campus.”
“I was really nervous because I didn’t know all of the details or exactly what it entailed. I thought Muhlenberg was doing a pretty good job and keeping numbers low so the sudden change was somewhat alarming,” said Marissa Steiner ‘22. “I decided to go home because I had just tested negative. It seemed like a safer option, and I wouldn’t have to be in lockdown. I knew I was safe and healthy so I didn’t want to risk it with only one week left on campus and many of my friends had similar feelings.”
Samantha White ‘23, a Resident Advisor (RA) from Iowa, shared a different perspective.
“I was slightly alarmed, knowing that people on my floor had tested positive, but ultimately relieved that I could isolate myself to stay safe. I had to stay on campus to complete my RA duties, but if I was not an RA I still would’ve stayed because living so far away, it is difficult to change my travel plans that late in the game.”
Students shared various opinions on how they felt about the College’s handling of the rise in cases and the dissemination of information.
Orlich said, “I think the College did an okay job. I do not like how they waited a couple days to update the COVID dashboard after the lockdown was put in place.”
“I’m happy they made the necessary steps to make sure everyone was safe, I just wish they gave us some advance notice of the changes if/when they knew,” said Strutin.
“I’m happy they made the necessary steps to make sure everyone was safe, I just wish they gave us some advance notice of the changes if/when they knew,”
“I think the administration is doing the best they can for the situations they are given. Many decisions are not perfect, but I feel as though they communicate with students very effectively,” said White.
“I think they’ve done a good job with implementing protocols and procedures. I felt safer knowing they were taking COVID seriously, however we all know it was a very different college experience. I think typically we were educated and knew what was going on,” said Steiner. “The weekly updates and communication from the administration was helpful and transparent, and the warnings before any action was taken (like switching phases) was beneficial and helpful in understanding the logic behind each decision. However, the lockdown email was alarming and I wish we knew more information about it then.”