Friday, December 4, 2020

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

 

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

What America and the World Can Learn from Small Residential Colleges

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education published, “The 5 Biggest Lessons We’ve Learned About How Coronavirus Spreads on Campus” on 3 December. The five lessons outlined in the article are:

 

·      With precautions in place, classrooms and other formal on-campus spaces aren’t important vectors of viral spread.

·      Off-campus social gatherings are the top drivers of coronavirus at colleges.

·      Residences have been the primary on-campus place where the virus has spread.

·      Entry and surveillance testing are critical.

·      College-student outbreaks can lead to infection and deaths among vulnerable people.

 

Smaller institutions with four-year residency and robust testing and prevention protocols have fared surprisingly well. In recent conversations with presidents from peer institutions, we all acknowledged that the spread of the virus in our surrounding communities has been much worse than any outbreaks on our respective campuses.

 

There are a number of reasons for this:

 

·      We have used scientifically-based approaches to mitigation and prevention.

·      Those of us that have been able to de-densify our residence halls have been able to reduce the spread of cases when there has been an outbreak on campus.

·      Systematic testing has been invaluable for early detection and for identifying and isolating asymptomatic positive cases.

·      We have built a cultural of compliance that includes consequences for those who do not adhere to community expectations.

 

Among the scores of presidents with whom I have spoken, none reported the transmission of COVID-19 in a classroom or other formal campus space. On each of our campuses, we have set up protocols for reduced occupancy, adequate distancing, mandatory mask wearing, and increased sanitation and airflow.

 

At Susquehanna, all spaces are labeled for occupancy, doors and hallways are labeled to create one-way navigation through buildings, UV air scrubbers and hepa filters have been distributed in buildings, and we have ongoing individual and wastewater testing. We have also asked all members of our campus community to register their travel. There is a shared sense of responsibility that has prompted many of our students to exceed our guidelines.

 

Most of the cases we have had on campus can be traced to a handful of students who visited another campus for a social gathering.

 

The object lessons to be taken from our experience are:

 

·      We are dependent upon each other to stay safe.

·      Adhering to scientific guidelines works.

·      Maintaining best practices will protect us all.

·      Curtailing travel and remaining masked in the presence of all those who are not your roommates/housemates are of paramount importance.

·      A small number of non-compliant individuals can have a significant negative impact.

 

Throughout the fall semester, when students were alone off-campus, they frequently remained masked even when they were nowhere near others. I have had many people from the surrounding community praise our students for being good role models for the borough.

 

I hope they can be role models for all of us. As a nation, if we can muster the same commitment and resolve to keep each other safe that we have witnessed on our campus, the curve will flatten again as we wait for widespread inoculation. It is on all of us to keep each other safe.