Cougar Care Team Members Hopes For a “Normal” Fall Semester

Cougar Care Team Members Hopes For a Normal Fall Semester

Rayna Swida and Kailene Nye

Members of the Cougar Care Team have one goal: to get students back to in-person learning.

James Roberts, chief of staff and member of the team, said the COVID-19 virus has challenged everybody, especially when it comes to safety and regulations. Masks, sanitizing and social distancing have all become a daily routine and will be on campus until the Pennsylvania Department of Health says differently.

“Everyone wants this campus to be back to normal, but we don’t want to rush and we want to just monitor things, be a little conservative and be very cautious,” Roberts said. “The one takeaway is that the university does want to offer as much in-person as we can.”

The world has officially marked one year of dealing with a pandemic people originally only hoped would last for two weeks. New variants of the COVID-19 virus are spiking in different countries, slowly but surely making their way to the United States.

As Roberts points out, this has been a very changing year for the university as well. He said policies and regulations enforced by the Department of Health and the Cougar Care Team being closely followed by students, faculty and staff have kept cases on campus low.

According to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, there has only been one faculty member who tested positive since Jan. 25, 2021. Sixteen resident students and 30 commuter students have tested positive since Jan. 25 as well, and as of the week of April 4, there were a total of 16 students in quarantine.

The Cougar Care team has also managed cases by performing regular surveillance and diagnostic testing, which help identify any non-symptomatic COVID cases and confirm those who are showing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. According to the team, there have been a total of 4,259 surveillance and diagnostic tests since Feb. 1, 2021, and 18 positive COVID cases have been confirmed.

As Pennsylvanians approach allergy season, officials from the Department of Health encourage people to continue to monitor their symptoms and get tested if they are feeling ill. The Cougar Care Team encourages the same for the students, faculty and staff on campus.

University officials say getting students, faculty and staff back on campus in full swing is the main goal, although it is too early to make plans for the 2021-22 year.

“We are hopeful that with more people being vaccinated, the number of cases will drop over the summer and that we will be able to open the fall 2021 semester as close to ‘normal’ as possible,” said Kit Foley, vice president of Student Life and Cougar Care Team member.

Many courses are expected to return to full sizes next semester, and Foley said they will continue to monitor what the Center for Disease Control says and make adjustments to this plan accordingly.

“If distancing has been reduced or eliminated, classes can meet face to face as usual. If social distancing requirements remain in effect as of late August, we will need to adjust how we approach courses for the fall semester,” she said. “We are putting a priority on our students and resuming face-to-face instruction wherever possible and appropriate.

Students go to universities to get the college experience and a great education, and COVID-19 has unfortunately stopped that from happening, according to students.

Montana Raggi, sophomore nursing student, agrees it is important to get back to in-person courses. Clinicals, labs and other hands-on learning has been made much more difficult or put on hold with virtual courses. Raggi said over the past two semesters, all of her nursing courses have been online, which has made her anxious to get vaccinated and return to in-person.

“I was hoping we’d be fully in-person with only having to stay 6 feet apart with no masks,” she said.

Raggi said one benefit to online learning is that she was able to get some of her general education courses out of the way so she could focus on nursing courses in the future. However, she said she learns better in a classroom setting and her education would benefit from going back.

Some students and faculty members do have concerns about coming back to in person learning, but the Cougar Care Team said they will continue to enforce safety precautions on masks and social distancing to keep everybody healthy.

“We will continue to error on the side of caution,” said Roberts.

Since Pennsylvania has seen an influx of vaccines and the restrictions are lifting, another conversation going on is about requiring vaccinations for all students. Roberts said that it is not required right now but is highly encouraged for those who are willing and able to get vaccinated.

“All of us should realize the importance of getting vaccinated,” Foley said. “My being vaccinated helps keep me safe as well as everyone around me.”

Foley said several factors go into the discussion of requiring vaccinations.

“We will want to see where vaccination rates in the region are, how close the region is to herd immunity and what other colleges and universities are doing regarding requiring vaccinations,” she said. “As of this moment, only about 20 colleges and universities around the country are requiring students to be vaccinated for the fall 2021 semester.”

The university began offering the first dose of the Moderna vaccine with the help of the Medicine Shoppe in Dallas to students and their immediate family members on May 2 and the plan to offer the second dose on May 30. Students were able to sign up for appointments between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

“We are pleased that we can provide an opportunity to administer them on campus,” Foley said.

She said that the pandemic has been learning experience for everyone on campus.

“Our primary hope is that our campus will be safe and that we can return to the on-campus experience, which so many students, both residents and commuters, long for,” Foley said.