Small colleges are handling a coronavirus holiday season with multifaceted approach
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 has been affecting our daily lives whether we have been specifically touched by the virus or not. Like “Six Degrees of Separation”, the likelihood that you know someone who has dealt directly with the disease more commonly known as COVID-19 is high. This is never more evident than on college campuses, especially those who are smaller and more intimate.
Cottey College, nestled in the town of Nevada, Missouri, is no different. This all women’s school, which was founded in 1884, houses approximately 300 students on its 17-acre campus and has held on-campus classes since the start of the fall semester in late August.
Cottey, like all other colleges, has been making plans for the Thanksgiving Break. This moment in time would signify the gathering of family and loved ones in one’s house to enjoy home-cooked food and other activities. Yet, it also means the coming to the end of what would be a productive and successful semester, with students knowing that the break marks only a few weeks left before finals.
This year is not the same; colleges have taken a different approach in trying to allow students to be home for the holiday while still remaining safe. Unlike some schools, which started the semester early so their students would be finished by the break and leave until the spring semester starts in 2021, Cottey decided to start the fall semester as normal (with social distancing, as well as masks, being required by everyone on campus) and hold their classes in-person until the break. The students were then allowed to choose one of three different options: go home for the break and stay home for the rest of the semester, attending classes remotely online; go home and then come back for the few remaining weeks to finish their work on campus, or to stay through the break until the semester ends.
“We are very pleased with how the fall semester has unfolded,” says Dr. Landon Adams, Vice-President of Student Life at Cottey. “We were ahead of our peers in some major decisions. We were among the first institutions in the area to commit to a testing program on campus. We were one of the first to commit to a campus-wide mask mandate. We were one of the first to formalize Thanksgiving Break plans, and we were possibly the first local institution to make adjustments to its spring academic calendar. By making these decisions early in the process, we were able to work through details and be nimble enough to respond to any unforeseen challenges quickly.”
These measures have enabled 75% of the resident students to return home for Thanksgiving Break; roughly 25% of those students plan to return to campus for the final three weeks of the semester. About a quarter of the student population plan to stay on campus through the break until the end of the semester.
“I’ll be on campus, cause it’s safer on campus,” says Khloe Kennedy, freshman from Basin, Wyoming. “Covid cases are spiking in my home state, and I don’t think it is safe to travel.”
Wyoming is second only to North Dakota on a highest-risk place list compiled by NPR.
However, not all students will be doing the same as Kennedy is. “I’m going home,” says Caroline Little, a freshman from Topeka, KS. “I figured if we are doing all our classes online, then I guess it would make sense to go home and see my family, do those classes online, instead of just staying in my room here.”
“I’m planning to go off campus for a couple of days to Oklahoma and stay there with a couple of my Cottey friends. Then we are coming back for the rest of the semester. Home is a little far away,” says Molly Mahoney, a Sophomore from San Diego, CA. “I wanted to get off campus to take a break and relax a little bit, and I feel fine with off-campus because I’ll be with the people I’ve been living with for the past semester so they are COVID-19 free and it will be a safe situation.”
“To this point, Cottey has had 8 students (approximately 3% of our on-campus student population) test positive for COVID-19 since August. Of those positive cases, no students experienced severe symptoms or were hospitalized,” states Adams.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has discouraged large gatherings this holiday season to help slow the spread of Covid, Cottey is trying to go the extra step. “The college will continue to implement the measures taken during the fall semester (mask mandate, daily health assessments, adjusted room capacities, additional safety measures in the dining room, contact tracing procedures, entry testing etc.). Additionally, the College has proactively made adjustments to the Spring calendar to eliminate any extended periods (Spring Break) in which students may have traveled great distances and then returned to campus,” Adams’ says. “Finally, in November, the College received an allotment of rapid response COVID-19 tests as a part of a state program. These tests will allow the College to more rapidly receive test results for individuals on campus who are demonstrating symptoms associated with COVID-19.”