As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at alarming rates across the country, the College rolled out some of its health and safety plans for the fall semester in a virtual town hall on July 30. There were 600 students who registered in advance and 75 students who asked over 200 questions. Topics ranged from the frequency of testing to new information about the Garnet Pledge, Swarthmore’s community health guidelines.
According to Jim Terhune, Vice President of Student Affairs, the college’s testing regimen was integral in the planning process for bringing students to campus. The college has partnered with a testing company, the name of which was not announced, that provides test results in 24 to 48 hours.
Students are expected to be tested three times within the first fourteen days they are on campus, the amount of time that COVID-19 symptoms take to appear.
“On the day that you arrived as a student, you will be tested that day, and then you’ll be tested a week later, and a week after that,” Terhune said.
After students’ first two weeks on campus, the college will determine how to proceed depending on the number of positive COVID-19 cases.
Terhune outlined two scenarios depending on whether the virus is prevalent or not. If COVID-19 is prevalent on-campus, the college will continue to test all students for a longer period of time. If not, the college will do sample testing — or test a handful of students from each residence hall — while also testing students who are in high-risk groups for the disease.
“And any time we get a positive test in one of those sample groups, we would then go back and test the whole group,” Terhune said.
For the first two weeks of the semester, testing will occur in tents staffed by Student Health Center nurses and set up on Parrish Beach. According to Casey Anderson, Director of Student Health and Wellness, the COVID-19 test that students will be receiving is a non-invasive lower nasal swab. Students, supervised by nurses, will administer their own tests. Students’ collected specimens will be directly mailed to the testing lab upon the day of collection. Students will be able to log into an online portal to check the results of their test.
“If there are any positive results, the lab vendor will notify students directly, and also notify the student Health Center staff so that we can make immediate contact with that student,” Anderson said.
Contact tracing will be done in-house by Student Health Center nurses.
“We [contact tracers] consist of nurses and nurse practitioners, and we will conduct the initial interview with all cases and collect close contact data,” Anderson said.
The college did not announce how regularly they would be testing students after the first two weeks of the semester.
According to Terhune, the college has developed a plan that identifies and isolates positive cases, even those who are asymptomatic. Anyone who comes in contact with someone who tests positive will be tested. Temporary housing is reserved for students who test positive, come in contact with someone who has, or who has developed COVID-19-like symptoms and is awaiting test results.
Each day, every student on-campus will be required to fill in information about their wellbeing on a new electronic system. For students who are in isolation or in quarantine housing, the college will require daily medical check-ins and optional daily psychological check-ins.
“The Student Health Center has purchased an additional electronic medical record software system that will be used to identify trends in positive cases…” Anderson said. “The software will be used to provide daily check-ins with students who are in isolation or quarantine housing, and also to track, on a daily basis, the health statuses of all students who are on-campus through a daily text alert that we will use for symptom tracking.”
TalkSpace, an online mental health service, will be available for students to use 24/7.
More information about the Garnet Pledge was also revealed. The pledge was first announced at the town hall held on July 9. The efficacy of the plan depends on how well students adhere to it. The full contents of the pledge are to be released early next week.
“This needs to be a collaborative endeavor, something we come at collectively, not where the college is handing down a bunch of new policies and restrictions on student behavior,” Terhune said.
Terhune fleshed out some of the details of the plan, revealing that masks would be required of all students at all times with the exceptions of being in the student’s individual dorm room, eating, or other times when proper social distancing can be done outdoors.
“Obviously when you’re in your room, you won’t need to wear a mask or when you are going to eat,” Terhune said. “We do very much believe that it’s important for not everybody to spend the entire semester only seeing half the faces of their classmates and peers so we’re working on that.”
One parent asked how the college would enforce the new pledge. According to Terhune, those who violate the pledge could ultimately be sent home.
For other health and safety measures, Greg Brown, Vice President of Finance and Administration, announced that EVS tech would be cleaning spaces, such as bathrooms and common areas more frequently — twice a day, seven days a week.
Each building will also have a sanitizing station at the entrance and sanitizing materials such as sprays, wipes, and hand sanitizer will be in every classroom and common area.
According to Brown, EVS techs will be provided with additional protective equipment and be required to participate in the college’s testing protocols.
“We actually pre-emptively ordered a considerable amount of PPE, so like face masks, gloves, sanitizers, all those sorts of things,” Brown said.
First years and transfer students will either arrive on campus on September 1 or 2. Returning students will arrive on September 3 or 4. Sign-up information for arriving on campus will be provided to students early next week. Housing assignments and questionnaires will be sent to returning students next week as well.
Students moving in with their families are allowed to bring multiple people to help them move in. However, only one other person besides the student will be allowed in the residence hall. Additionally, students we be unable to have outside visitors for the duration of the semester. Outside visitors will not be allowed in residence halls or campus buildings.
Sharples, which traditionally seats 600 students, will have a maximum occupancy of 250. Plexiglass barriers have been installed in serving areas to further separate staff and students. After the first two weeks of the semester, students will use an app to make reservations for the time they will go to the dining hall. Food will no longer be self-serve, with the exception of drinks. Disposable plates and cutlery will be used in Sharples for the duration of the semester.
For the first two weeks of the semester, students will be receiving takeout meals from Sharples. Students are not expected to eat alone in their single rooms but can eat outside or in residence halls. The lawns outside and indoor residence common areas will be marked to indicate the proper social distance, with the lawn being painted with 200 squares.
While the OneCard, in previous semesters, provided students on meal plans with Swat Points that they could use at restaurants and grocery stores like Bamboo Bistro or the CO-OP, students will no longer have access to Swat Points so as to encourage students to eat on-campus and leave campus less frequently.
Sarah Willie-leBreton, Provost and Dean of Faculty, addressed the academic aspect of reopening: the universal pass/faily policy from last spring will not carry over into the fall, four credits will be considered a normal course load in the spring, the expected number of credits for the year is eight, and PE courses will be offered both in-person and remotely.
Most clubs and organizations are expected to operate remotely. New student orientation will occur both in-person and remotely. The libraries and the Matchbox will remain open with social distancing rules enforced. The Intercultural Center, Black Cultural Center, and Women’s Resource Center, will be open next semester but will operate at lower occupancy rates.
Ed Rowe, the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College, addressed concerns regarding what would happen to students if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred next fall.
“We also recognize that if we were to have to transition to all remote classes in the middle of the semester that we are prepared to house these students through the duration of the fall semester,” Rowe said.
While Peter Axelrod, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Temple University and another speaker at the town hall, was hesitant to give specificities about what conditions would cause the college to shift entirely to remote learning, he iterated that the number of students infected, the rapidity of the infection rate, and the concentration of cases, would influence the college’s decision.
According to Axelrod, if an outbreak occurs on one floor of a residence hall, it may be easier to trace those who were infected than if cases were more widespread in different dormitories on-campus.
“In my mind, it [the college’s contingency plan] has to do with the number of people who are infected. But it also has to do with the rapidity of new cases,” Axelrod said. “So if you have, you know, six people infected over two days that’s different than six people infected over two months. It may also have a little bit to do with how clustered the cases are…”
Many students asked questions regarding financial aid resources for first-generation and low-income students. Brown discussed financial aid awards and work-study contributions for students.
According to Brown, financial aid awards were adjusted depending on whether a student was living on-campus. Bills will be released today.
Students who have a work-study contribution in their financial aid packages are still required to provide the contribution. However, Brown notes that students who are unable to find work are encouraged to reach out to the financial aid office.
Brown announced that the college had installed new air handling filters in accordance with new standards related to COVID-19.
“We’re increasing the frequency of air changes in the room, which is a really important way to keep the air fresh in the space,” Brown said. “We’ll also be running the systems much longer than the occupied hours… With lower density, there are fewer people, which means there’s less air to move around so that’s helpful.”
President Valerie Smith ended the town hall by asking a somber yet important question to students who plan on arriving on-campus in the fall.
“Are you willing to take responsibility for yourself and for others if you plan on returning?”