Returning to campus this semester, students are noticing some changes to the college’s COVID-19 protocols. The college’s general philosophy behind making the decisions, according to Chief of Staff Kelly Finn, was to accommodate student feedback.
“It is our hope that we can be as responsive to students’ needs as possible, given the ongoing implications of COVID-19,” said Finn. “We know that the pandemic has made learning and engaging on campus very challenging, but it is our job to make the best choices for our community to keep everyone together safely.”
One of the biggest changes students have noticed going into the semester is an alteration in COVID-19 testing. The college has recently transitioned from a traditional PCR test, which takes 24 to 72 hours for results, to a 15-minute rapid test.
“We have implemented rapid testing, which will allow us to be much more responsive to any potential spread of COVID-19 on campus,” said Finn. “Although we had a strong testing program in the fall, we were not able to get same-day results, which delayed our ability to respond to students who were testing positive. Thanks to improved testing technology, we are now able to do that.”
Although the college hopes that faster test results can lead to increased engagement among the student body, Finn said that for now, it is of the utmost importance that the college prioritizes the health and safety of its students.
“Currently, cases in Calhoun County and nationwide are still high. We need to continue to be vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Finn. “Our hope going forward is that we are able to loosen some restrictions if we see the spread of COVID-19 begin to subside. Our rapid testing will help us do that. We are working with the COVID-19 Student Accountability Committee to make this semester as safe and engaging as possible.”
Another benefit of faster COVID-19 test results is a potential increase in opportunities for on-campus visitors.
“If we are able to effectively manage the spread of COVID-19, we are hoping to be able to test campus visitors on a more regular basis,” said Finn. “For now, we need to continue to limit the spread on campus by reducing travel on and off campus, but moving forward, we hope to increase opportunities for visitors to be on campus.”
Along with the new testing system, the college has discontinued use of the Aura App and has instead requested that students download a different app called NAVICA.
“The Aura App was associated with the test we were using in the Fall. Moving forward, we are using the AbbottLabs BinaxNOW test which is a 15 minute rapid antigen test,” said Finn. “The Abbott test is associated with a different app, called NAVICA which will allow our community members to access their COVID-19 results.”
In addition to delivering test results to students directly, the Aura App was also used last semester as a daily symptoms check as well as a device to track students whereabouts outside of the Albion Bubble. These features allowed administration to have warning signs early on if new cases of COVID-19 were potentially entering the campus community.
This semester, students are required to fill out the college’s Daily Health Assessment form every day by noon.
“Our COVID-19 team will receive alerts and reach out to symptomatic individuals if testing is required,” said Finn. “This information will only be shared with our COVID-19 team and used for the management of COVID-19 on campus.”
One of the smaller, but nonetheless significant, changes students have noticed going into the semester is the altered community dashboard. The new dashboard features fewer metrics than last semester. Namely, handwashing, mask wearing and use of sanitizing stations on campus have been removed from the dashboard. Finn explained that these measures were removed, again, in accordance with student feedback.
In addition to the dashboard being altered, COVID-19 email updates sent from the college to the student body are different this semester. Rather than detailing COVID-19 updates in an email, the emails guide students to the dashboard to see specific updates.
Although some students consider this to be a more indirect form of communication between administration and the student body, Finn explained that students last semester requested more streamlined communications and less lengthy emails from the college. Keeping COVID-19 updates comprehensive on the website was a direct way to do just that.
Looking ahead, the college also hopes to expand business partnerships within the Together Safely bubble in order to allow students more opportunities for interaction.
“All of the businesses from the fall have signed on again to join us this spring,” said Finn. “We have also reached out to new local businesses in hopes that they will join us. We are always looking to expand this program.”
The college hopes that the changes to COVID-19 protocols and procedures will, overall, have a positive impact and address student feedback in a productive way.
“Our hope is that, in a positive way, our rapid testing will allow us to keep our campus safer and will eventually allow for students to engage more in-person,” said Finn. “It will require the active participation of each member of our community to make that possible.”