Reposted from The Landmark
By Danielle Ray Correspondent
October 6, 2020
PAXTON — Anna Maria College is among the Commonwealth’s institutions of higher learning that are adapting in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some colleges shifted to all-remote learning for the fall semester, but others, including Anna Maria, have taken a bolder approach.
At Anna Maria, students have the choice to participate in classes three different ways: remote/online, in person, or a hybrid of the two.
“Anna Maria College has one focus: to keep all students, faculty and staff as safe as possible and to offer a quality educational experience for our students,” said Michael Miers, vice president for administration and Chief Information Officer at the college.
The college consulted with government and public health officials to create a number of protocols and safety measures that are currently in place in order to return students and faculty to campus last month. Anyone who is on campus is being tested twice a week for COVID-19, at no cost to the student or employee, through a partnership with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
“Along with the twice weekly test, everyone coming on campus is required to submit a daily self-symptom assessment through the CoVerified app,” Miers said.
There are 1,500 active students registered for the fall 2020 semester, including graduate and undergraduate students; around 500 of them live on campus. As of press time, well over 8,000 COVID-19 tests had been administered, and there had been a total of six positive cases. That’s .08 percent positive tests, with zero positive cases in more than 14 days.
“Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people with COVID-19 are contagious,” Miers said. “This is why regular testing is so important.”
In all cases where a student tests positive, they are required to self-isolate for at least 14 days, either at a designated isolation space on campus or at home, depending on their situation.
“Those exposed to an infected student will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days per the CDC,” Miers said. “As with isolation, self-quarantining will occur at home or on campus depending on the student’s situation. We have designated two floors of a residence hall for isolation and quarantine space. Any student or employee who has been confirmed positive will be contacted by our team of contact tracers, and the local DPH will be notified.”
Students began moving into their dorms Aug. 15, and classes began Aug. 24.
“Move-in period spanned a longer time because we opened the residence halls to out-of-state students first, and smaller numbers,” Miers said. “When a student arrived, they completed a COVID test and then quarantined for 24 hours while we waited for results. Once we had results, the students were free to be around campus (if they tested negative). This process continued for the entire week, until all students were on campus and had been tested at least once.”
Miers, who has been employed by Anna Maria College for 15 years, said the school has implemented additional training to ensure that faculty and staff are able to work and conduct classes “as seamlessly as possible.”
“Last semester,” when the pandemic sent all college students home or off-campus, “required a very quick pivot by everyone to move all classes and many activities online,” he said. “While we have had more time to plan for the fall semester, there have been additional challenges.”
Miers’ primary focus at the college is operations: human resources, information technology, dining services, facilities, events and rentals, and the bookstore. He has helped to implement modifications at the school in regard to the services offered on campus including additional telecounseling and telehealth, reserved seating in the dining hall, online call-ahead food orders from The Hub, and limited capacity at in-person student life events.
“During this pandemic, the focus of my areas revolved around how we can safely have students and employees on campus and adhere to all federal, state and local regulations,” he said. “For human resources, IT, events, and the bookstore, the focus was how we could provide our services virtually and allow for remote workers and classroom instruction.”
They implemented the Open Table app to allow students and faculty to make a required reservation for a spot in the dining hall so the school can manage traffic and flow, offer many grab-and-go food options, and launched an ordering system for pick-up only food from The Hub.
For facilities, they have focused on cleaning, which included hiring additional full-time cleaners and investing in additional equipment and supplies. More than 150 hand sanitizer stations have been added around campus, as well as signage and building flow and plexiglass and other protectants for offices. Properly spacing seating in classrooms and meeting spaces has been done as well as posting capacities for all rooms on campus.
“The semester has been going really well,” Miers said. “Students and faculty are happy to be back and are engaged in classes, and the student life events we are able to do (and) are adapting well despite the enormous challenges they’ve faced.”
Miers said that while the safety of the entire campus community is always the college’s top priority, that mission “takes on even greater urgency” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Maintaining a safe campus is a group effort; everyone must do his or her part to stay safe,” he said. “This means adhering to our campus health and safety protocols and the guidelines issued by public health and state and local government. Central to this is social distancing, mask wearing, and hygiene combined with regular COVID-19 testing.”
The college has disciplinary measures in place for students and employees who do not follow the protocols, which consist of a fine for first offense and removal from campus for the semester for the second offense.
“Our community realizes that we are all in this together,” Miers said.
For more information including the Return to Campus handbook and presentation, visit annamaria.edu/covid-19-important-dates-safety-protocols.