Colleges, universities prepare for holiday break amid COVID-19 pandemic
By ERIN ROLL
Many colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to get tested for COVID-19, and test negative, within a certain time frame before they leave campus.
Although Montclair State University is not requiring students to be tested before they leave campus for the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 26, they do conduct routine testing on certain populations, spokesperson Andrew Mees said.
“We are testing hundreds of students every week in our surveillance testing program, which focuses on students and staff in our high-contact programs, including athletics, the performing arts, health care, clinical services and the child care center,” Mees said. “We also routinely test a sample of people who live and work in residence halls where there have been cases of COVID.”
As the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 began to climb, the university announced several steps last week to reduce the risk of virus spread on campus as the semester draws to a close. Faculty may move on-campus instruction to online after Thanksgiving, to reduce the number of people on campus. Visitors from off campus may not enter residence halls or academic buildings without specific advance approval. Residential students are to remain on campus to the greatest extent possible up until Thanksgiving.
The university also continues to urge students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing, stay home or in their residence halls if sick, and report any illness or possible COVID-19 symptoms to a health-care provider at once.
The State University of New York is requiring all students to take a COVID-19 test, and test negative, in the 10-day window prior to Thanksgiving break. Other universities requiring such testing before Thanksgiving break include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan. Notre Dame announced that students must have a COVID-19 test before they leave campus if they intend to return for the spring semester.
Rowan University announced that it is offering free COVID-19 testing to students prior to the holiday. Rutgers is requiring students, whether they are going home or staying on campus, to fill out a form declaring their status during the break period.
Between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, many universities will likely choose to finish out the semester with all-remote learning.
Montclair State will transition to remote learning after the Thanksgiving holiday, and will remain in remote learning until the last day of the semester on Dec. 14.
Between Aug. 27 and Nov. 6, 55 people — 49 students and six employees — at Montclair State tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the university. Of those 55, 19 were in isolation and recovering as of Nov. 5, and the remaining 36 have recovered and been cleared to return to campus.
The university has administered a total of 3,985 tests through its surveillance testing program, including 2,363 resident students, 1,372 commuter students and 250 employees. The university was expected to have a total of 3,200 students living on campus for the fall semester, out of a total enrollment of 21,000 students and 4,500 staff.
Of the 3,985 tests, 17 were COVID-19 positive. The highest number of positive cases in a given week was eight for the week ending Oct. 29, followed by seven for the week ending Sept. 24.
The surveillance testing program also tests university police officers, emergency medical service volunteers, employees at the Ben Samuels Children’s Center, housekeepers, shuttle bus drivers and students and faculty in clinical programs such as nursing, nutrition, audiology and clinical psychology.
Besides the surveillance program, the University Health Center has also conducted COVID-19 tests, with 15 being administered during the fall semester. Of those 15, three were COVID-19 positive.
The positivity rate for the last week of October, the most recent data available for the campus, was 1.06 percent. It was the second-highest weekly positivity rate for the semester, after 1.51 percent for the week ending Sept. 24.
A Montclair State administrator was identified as Montclair State’s first case of COVID-19 on March 12. Later that month, the university announced it was closing campus to all students except those who had a need to remain on campus.
The residence halls have been open at reduced capacity this semester to allow for a higher number of single-person rooms.
In August, the university suspended 11 students after they were found to have attended large parties or other gatherings without masks on.