By Victoria Gill-Gomez
An Oct. 16 email from the Contingency Planning Group released an updated housing plan for students who wish to return for the spring semester.
“[Washington College] understood how important it was to our students to get back on campus and, after lots of reviewing of experiences of schools who used a similar residential model this semester, that we could do it safely,” Vice President of Student Affairs Sarah Feyerherm said.
During the Student Government Association open forum with Interim President Dr. Wayne Powell on Oct. 7, many students questioned the reasoning for the limited number of students who would be allowed to return as well as why first-year students were given priority for housing over upperclassmen.
According to Dean Feyerherm, the concern from parents and students ranged from those who felt that the CPG unfairly burdened seniors by not initially being able to accommodate them on campus to others who questioned if the current housing and health safety model for bringing students back to campus was too risky.
“There was agreement that if we had to pick and choose who could come back to campus that no one would be happy,” Feyerherm said.
The Oct. 16 email provided clarifications and updates about the evolution of the “Together Again” plan for the spring regarding health and safety measures.
“We acknowledge that the College’s communications related to the planning process have been frustrating and we are committed to improving the transparency and frequency of our messages to our students and parents,” the Oct. 16 email said. “We will work to improve our messaging to reflect that deep commitment.”
“Together Again”is a model designed for a campus community to have the opportunity for a productive and successful semester regardless of where a student decides to live in the spring, according to the College’s website.
“There are so many moving parts and we are continuing to develop policies and practices that will keep our campus safe and setting up procedures to give the students an on-campus experience. We are focusing on obtaining testing supplies and providing the necessary services to make sure that we can safely bring everyone back,” Candace Wannamaker, associate vice president of Student Affairs and director of Student Engagement, said.
Two requests made by students and parents included having the CPG revisit the number of students who can be housed safely on campus and clarification on details for safety plans such as testing and quarantine protocols.
The updated housing plan increased the number of students allowed back on campus in the spring from 460 students to everyone who wants to come back.
According to Feyerherm, the re-evaluation of the housing model was decided in close consultation with the Kent County Health Department and in accordance with guidance issued recently by the Institutes of Higher Education in the Maryland Department of Health’s Guidance.
The model is based on the assumption that all rooms will become singles; one student per bedroom in order to minimize contact with sharing bathrooms.
Another foundational point of the model is that 10% of available beds are reserved for Quarantine & Isolation space.
What allowed for the increased student count was the leniency provided to students in suites. Previously, the accommodation was one student per suite — which meant there was no sharing of bathrooms — but eliminating this restriction created a 10% increase.
Students already living off-campus are encouraged to stay there. At this time, Residential Life will not be granting new waivers for off-campus housing that also provide campus access.
This is all to ensure a limited spread of COVID-19 across both the College and Chestertown communities.
The CPG listed three conditions in their email about the safety measures for the reopening plan.
First, as aforementioned, every student will be living in a single room. According to an email from Residential Life on Oct. 16, the housing fee will be the lesser double rate for that residence hall.
Even though no student will be allowed a roommate this spring, students do have the opportunity to be assigned dorm neighbors. Suite-style rooms, such as Harford Hall, will have single bedrooms, housing three to five students per suite. To do this, students are advised to use the “roommate” search and request function in the Housing Directory.
Due to the restrictions of assignments and hall occupancy, Residential Life cannot guarantee student requests to be assigned in rooms near friends.
Second, the CPG gave the assurance that there is ample space available for quarantine and isolation procedures.
Wannamaker also serves as the logistics lead for the CPG. She is currently working with the digital health company Emocha Heath to plan and implement updated staffing regulations for COVID-19 care.
Over the summer she evaluated the supplies needed for the Quarantine and Isolation Residence Hall, preparing that space for students in need of it.
On-campus students, students in Chestertown, faculty, and staff will receive instructions about downloading and using the Emocha Health app.
Everyone is expected to perform daily check-ins by 10 a.m.
“Symptom tracking and monitoring is essential to breaking the chain of disease transmission. Through the app, individuals returning to campus will receive color-coded digital badges to indicate whether it is safe for them to be around others,” the WC website says.
The Q&I residence halls’ function is so staff can contain individuals who are sick to spaces where they can provide an additional level of care.
The dormitories are divided as such: Kent will house students who may need to be quarantined, and Corsica will house students who test positive for COVID-19, so they can get additional monitoring and care from professional health staff.
Students should note that there will be no specialty housing. This includes Presidential Fellows, STEM, and Greek Life.
Third tenant is providing a robust testing plan. At the moment this includes both gateway testing and regular surveillance testing throughout the semester.
Since spring classes begin Feb. 1, students are expected to move in two weeks prior. Whether students are living on or off-campus they are expected to be tested and quarantined at home 14 days prior to moving in, be tested and quarantined upon arrival, and be tested again on Day 12 after their move-in.
Surveillance testing will be implemented throughout the remainder of the semester at Health Services in Queen Anne’s Hall for symptomatic students.
According to the CPG email, the goal is to test 15% of the College community, including faculty and staff, on a weekly basis. Data will be reported on the online CPG dashboard.
While students are on campus, some of the day-to-day safety precautions include physical and social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols, face coverings, mandatory influenza vaccine for all students, and restricted visitor and travel policies.
Students are strongly discouraged to travel outside of the town limits and may be required to self-quarantine.
For students and parents not in-state, the CPG is currently developing a robust COVID-19 information website.
The CPG will also be hosting multiple tentative forums where additional questions about the upcoming semester can be submitted and will be addressed by members of the CPG.
“A return to campus does not mean a return to ‘normal,’ as many facets of campus life will be different,” the email stated. “We also want to be very clear that our ability to remain open in this reduced density format is largely dependent upon adherence to safety protocols.”
These protocols are affecting some on-campus resources that will depend upon the “alert level” at which the campus will be functioning.
For instance, right now the Johnson Fitness Center and the Casey Swim Center will be open to students with restrictive measures such as usage sign-up forms and completion of the attestation app.
Central Services and the Bookstore are open as well.
Dining Services has a detailed plan for how they will operate depending upon those campus alert levels which is to be announced.
For now, all classes will begin online. Towards the end of March, if the situation allows, there is a possibility for some courses to transition to in-person instruction.
Any upperclassmen or first-year students, who have already received instructions, and are not already living off-campus in Chestertown, will be receiving a follow-up email from the Residential Life Team. All students are asked to complete and submit an application about their intentions for living situations no later than Oct. 28.
Featured Photo caption: The Hill Dorms (Middle, East, and West) are themed dormitories relating to different academic or extracurricular interests. Normally, students would apply to live in these buildings, but theme housing was deferred for the spring semester to accommodate the new housing policy. Photo by Izze Rios.