EPHRAIM—Face masks, signs encouraging social distancing and professors unveiling plans for flexibility in the fall 2020 semester defined an unusual first day of classes at Snow College on Monday.
“It’s hard to hear people, and it’s weird because you can’t really tell people’s facial expressions,” said freshman Ethan Radford, who had just had his first two classes where everyone wore masks.
The college’s goal is for face-to-face class meetings to continue safely through the full semester. Across the country, some institutions have already had to convert to remote learning because of COVID-19 cases fueling fears of the virus getting out of control.
“It is a scary thing, but we can be prepared and be calm,” said Marci Larsen, assistant to the president. The school is following numbers related to COVID-19, as they are released by the Utah Department of Health, to guide its response as the semester progresses.
Larsen said the school reopening really happened Friday, the first of three move-in days for student housing; this was different than welcoming all of the new residents in one day like normal. This is an example of how Snow is seeking to minimize coronavirus transmission by “de-densifying” campus areas.
Other measures to keep the virus at bay include requiring mask-wearing and social distancing, and providing hand sanitizer stations in campus buildings. Signs and posters in highly-traffic areas encourage social distancing and hand washing, part of a “positive educational campaign,” Larsen said.
Fall sports and events like True Badger Night, which normally draw large crowds, are cancelled, though the college plans to go forward with intramural sports.
The other part of the school’s effort to keep the campus open is a plan for mitigating outbreaks when cases do occur.
“We know that we’re gonna have COVID; that’s the reality,” Larsen said. Currently, Snow College falls in the low-restriction category (yellow) as outlined by the Utah Department of Health, the second of four levels of risk.
If the campus infection rate trends too closely toward 15 percent, the school will start switching to remote learning. Unlike last March, Snow now has a protocol for that worst-case scenario, Larsen said.
The school will follow local and campus metrics, such as case numbers and hospitalizations, and their website will launch a feature to display some of those this week. The site has also added features, such as special protocol guidelines, a “got covid?” screening portal, a guide to mental health during the pandemic and detailed plans for outbreaks.
Snow has formed “COVID Cares” teams, which are trained to help the state health department carry out contact tracing and support those who become infected to recover, Larsen said.
Tracing procedure will mean asking any student who tests positive to provide names of whomever they may have recently spoken to without wearing a mask. The team will contact those people to warn them they might have been infected, according to Rob Nielson, Snow athletic director and co-director of COVID Cares.
Larsen said while the college expects some students who get the virus to return home, some may need or prefer to stay. For those who stay, the college will keep some dorm rooms available as quarantine housing.
Besides administrative preparations, successful completion of the semester will depend on external factors, such as students cooperating when they are off campus. At some other schools in the United States, off-campus behavior has been blamed for triggering unacceptable spread of the virus.
Asked whether students are up to the challenge, sophomore Anthony Ruiz said, “There’s gonna be all sorts of people doing different things. I think, for the most part, people are gonna do what they’re supposed to do.”
Larsen said dorm capacity, where students live and can socialize in shared rooms, is at 95 percent this semester, and most of the rest of the students live in housing not affiliated with Snow. Different dorms include varied communal space types like kitchens, bathrooms and lobby areas.
She said seeing signs of the students complying with protocol so far, though, makes her optimistic.
“They are stepping up,” she said. “I know a lot of people are worried about bringing a lot of people into the county now, but I think [the students] generally are good and see that they have to do it for the greater good.”
Plans for this semester began forming last March and involved seeking input from students and faculty.
There was discussion about the college going to remote learning after Thanksgiving, but according to Larsen, students overwhelmingly favored having in-person classes for the full semester. A survey showed faculty to be “very split” between the full semester and a shortened semester.
To access Snow College’s safety plan and stabilization guide, visit snow.edu/offices/safety/ready.