By: Cassy Sottile and Erica Quinones
The week of March 9, while students were on spring break, Washington College joined the growing number of higher education venues closing campuses to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19.
Before spring break, the campus community was informed of the cancellation of international trips for groups like Model UN, and study abroad opportunities in Italy, Japan, South Korea, and China.
Those measures escalated over spring break when administration announced a one week break extension, citing campus communities’ susceptibility “to the spread of this novel virus because of frequent travel among this population and because our students live in close quarters,” according to an email from the Presidents Office on March 11.
Administration requested that students remain off campus and retrieve extra belongings by Sunday, March 15 with residence halls becoming ID card-restricted on Monday, March 16.
Director of Health Services Lisa Marx asked students with medications in the Health Center to contact her directly for retrieval on March 12.
Other health services like counseling are moving to remote aid for the remainder of the semester. Counselors are only available by phone or video-counseling and can be reached by email or phone at 410-778-7261.
Students who need help finding established local care can also call the number above or email Director of Counseling Services Dr. Randi Altman, according to her March 16 email to the campus.
Administration said that the College will provide housing and meals to matriculated, exchange, and domestic students with nowhere except campus to stay.
While on-campus events for the week of March 16 were cancelled, administration said that athletic teams would continue competing until the Centennial Conference and other intercollegiate governing bodies decided otherwise.
In the wake of the announcements from the College, a number of events for the week of March 16 and beyond were cancelled.
These events included the Hillel trip to Philadelphia, the George Washington Book Prize lecture and dinner with prize winner Colin Calloway, the lecture from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine admissions representative Debbie Bisbee, the reading by Casey Cep, the J.C. Jones Seminar in American Business featuring a talk by Mark Testoni, the Phi Alpha Theta Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, and other academic conferences.
Department of Theatre and Dance SCE performances of “The Effect” and “Antigone,” which were scheduled for later this semester, were also cancelled.
The Centennial Conference officially suspended all spring athletic practices and competitions on March 12 as announced via Twitter.
The suspension took effect on March 16 and the only athletics not suspended were those competing during their spring break periods.
The administration is currently considering options for how Commencement will proceed.
Students were planned to return on Friday, March 20 with classes beginning on Monday, March 23, measures to conduct courses online were in preparation, and the Emergency Operations Group (EOG) announced they would meet daily for the following two weeks in order to discuss the evolving situation.
These measures quickly changed after Governor Larry Hogan’s statements on COVID-19, putting restrictions on meetings of over 250 people.
On Friday, March 13, the President’s Office announced that they decided to close campus until April 3 in an email. The only students allowed on campus were those who gained approval from Residential Life.
They announced that all classes would move online while Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio worked with faculty to create digital course plans so students could finish their semester on time.
That same day, another email informed the College community that a student who traveled out of state to an area with confirmed cases of community-transmitted COVID-19 was hospitalized in Chestertown, awaiting test results for COVID-19 after exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
The student’s traveling companion and suitemates were placed in isolation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) protocol.
On March 14, the campus was informed that the students were self-contained on campus, cooking a meal in Corsica Hall and staying in their suite before the sick student was hospitalized.
Their test results are not yet available but it was reported that they are feeling better.
A professional cleaning company also sanitized Corsica, including access points, doors, stairwells, hallways touchpoints, and the elevator as per CDC guidelines which include “high touch” surfaces like door handles.
On March 16, Landgraf informed the campus that the remainder of the semester would be conducted through “remote-only learning” and required students currently on campus who can return home to vacate their college housing by March 31.
Students will be able to return to campus to pick up the rest of their belongings between March 18 and 31.
According to a March 16 email from Student Affairs, students returning to retrieve “critical” items must request the date 24 hours before the chosen date to be approved by Residential Life. Pick ups may occur between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the designated dates.
Students do not have to empty their rooms yet, but if they can do so quickly, they must turn in their keys following the instructions taped to their doors.
Information for cleaning out rooms will come later this week.
The same email said that the College will compensate families for eligible room and board expenses for the period of March 23 until the end of the semester.
They said the business office will calculate those billing adjustments by the end of the semester, but ask families who are in position to do so, to consider donating the compensation back to WC as a tax-deductible contribution.
With the closing of campus, there are also temporary changes to mail retrieval as of March 16.
In an email, Katherine Brilz told off-campus students to change their mail to address for future deliveries. Mail currently on campus can be forwarded to home addresses if students email her.
Students on campus are asked to only order items that are essential. When retrieving mail, she asks that students stand in the counter doorway and announce their name to the clerk who will retrieve the mail, check it out, and set the mail on the counter. This is to practice distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
People can protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by participating in social distancing by staying home; standing six feet away from others; washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds; using hand sanitizers which are at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water is not available; cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, sleeve, or elbow; avoiding touching the eyes, nose, or mouth; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces; and remaining home when sick except to seek medical care.
WC will continue updating the community on their COVID-19 reaction at https://www.washcoll.edu/live/news/12377-coronavirus-update. More information on COVID-19 is located at https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/ and cdc.gov/coronavirus.
The College and health officials alike ask that people seek information from reliable, official sources. There is countless misinformation regarding COVID-19 circulating online.
“This public health crisis sheds new light on what it means to be part of the WC family,” President Kurt Landgraf said in a March 16 email. “Be kind to one another. And keep washing your hands. Hopefully, we will see you on campus soon.”