With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country, provosts prepare for another semester of mask mandates, distancing and reliance on student cooperation.
Academic Provost Jamie Hooyman was a key player in allowing on-campus learning for the fall 2020 semester. Since the campus closure in March, the University’s goals have remained the same: prioritize the health and safety of the Northwest community and ensure the quality of the learning environment from the day of closure.
Campus was then analyzed by teams of Northwest staff to measure, clean and prepare spaces for students again. Faculty measured classrooms to ensure rooms that allowed for 6 feet of distancing were utilized. Air flow into buildings determined walking paths to enter and exit buildings. Bearcat Thunder was added to every room. Signs reminding students to wear masks were placed every few feet. Hooyman even purchased additional equipment for art classes, labs and other departments to make sure fewer hands touched the same tools.
Bearcats should expect more of the same for the spring semester. Masks will be required, distancing is encouraged, alternate attendance is preferred, and students will be asked to go into quarantine if they test positive or interact with someone who has tested positive.
While Hooyman said classroom interactions resulted in cases less frequently than other interactions, one change involves keeping a record of what classrooms allowed students to distance properly and compare cases out of those rooms to those with less space.
Freshman Gianna Filardo was put in quarantine the first week of classes due to a positive test result in early August. Filardo said she wasn’t surprised by the spike in cases at Northwest in August. Once she was in class, she felt safe with masks and alternate attendance. Filardo’s professors communicated frequently, making expectations clear to Filardo and her classmates.
Filardo lives in Hudson-Perrin, where masks are required at all times, outside guests are not welcome, and on campus guests must be escorted around the hall. She’s been told by resident assistants and instructors that the spring will look the same.
“I’m a little bummed,” Filardo said. “I feel like we did a good job this semester, so we could try to branch out.”
Associate Provost of Graduate Schools Greg Haddock took complaints from students who were put into quarantine twice, sometimes three times. Once he was able to understand their frustrations and assure them quarantine was the safest option, they shared their needs with empathy. Haddock valued getting to know students and make adjustments based on their feedback.
Nodaway county has been declared a Category 1: Extreme Risk area. On Nov. 30, there were 250 active cases and 10 hospitalizations.
Hooyman asks students to do three things over winter break to ensure another full semester on campus. The first is to be prepared to be as compliant and adaptable as they were in the fall.
When students returned to campus in August, the University noticed the spike in cases and reacted with encouragement from President John Jasinski to make safer choices if they wanted to stay on campus. The reaction to this warning showed in the numbers of cases in the following weeks.
“You’re still going to have your concerns, fears and changes, but for the most part, people are just really happy to be able to be in classes and be on the college campus,” Hooyman said.
The second request is to use safe judgement when socializing with friends. Staying in small groups and wearing masks ensures less super spreader events.
The third need is the most difficult for Hooyman to ask for but also what she said would be the most beneficial. She said students should attempt to quarantine before coming back to campus to make sure they return healthy and COVID-19 free.
“I really do give a lot of kudos to our students. Without them helping to make this work it would be really easy for us to just go online,” Hooyman said.
Filardo has made few plans outside of family gatherings for the holidays. After testing positive over summer break, she doesn’t want to risk quarantining during another start to the semester. She predicts few students will do the same and anticipates another spike when students return in January.
After 25 years at Northwest, Haddock said he’s impressed by the Bearcat community now more than ever before. His favorite feature of Northwest is the students who seek out a dedicated University like Northwest. With the highest enrollment in University history, Haddock said it would be unfair to describe the semester negatively.
“We haven’t said a lot because we don’t want to look like we’re proud of stealing students from other universities despite mitigations,” Haddock said.
Haddock would like to hear feedback from students at other universities to see what was successful in their mitigation efforts and in return offer advice based on the fall. He said Bearcats should use their break to have conversations with others to promote compassion and influence others to adapt safe habits.
Northwest's Provost’s Office said they understand the semester has been difficult. Hooyman recommends students reach out to Wellness Services for both their physical and emotional needs. Jasinski urged students in a mass email to celebrate all that was achieved this semester despite less than ideal circumstances. Hooyman also said it’s important for students to cut themselves and each other some slack.
“If there’s ever been a time in our country where we need to look out for each other, I’d say we’re there, and that’s the Bearcat way, which is what I think makes us outstanding,” Hooyman said.