Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said she thinks the college is prepared to welcome Owls back on campus and keep them there.
As colleges and universities across the nation have begun bringing students back on campus for the fall semester, college administrators are facing the challenge of accommodating students on campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reported that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was forced to return to remote learning after a week of classes.
Despite this, Treadwell said Keene State is taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that UNC did not.
“UNC did not try to identify who might have [COVID-19] before letting them on campus,” Treadwell said. “We have been working closely with state health departments and we maintain vigilance about testing. If a case occurs, we get on top of that.”
Keene State’s Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gail Zimmerman said “Keene’s reopening plan has been the work of a dedicated team of individuals working and keeping the health and safety of the community of primary importance.”
In order to ensure that the college begins its fall semester free of the virus, Keene State has enacted a policy that all students, faculty and staff need to submit a negative test result before being able to step on campus.
To achieve this result, the college has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to allow members of the Keene State community to take their test at home and mail it in to get a result. Zimmerman said the decision to contract with Quest Diagnostics was made at the system level as “both Plymouth State and Keene State are using Quest” for COVID-19 testing.
“The testing has been challenging,” Zimmerman said. “There are a number of individuals who have been working to address each of the challenges that have arisen. This is such a critical piece to our ability to open safely that we must get this right.”
Zimmerman added that the college has developed “solid protocols for contact tracing that will help to limit the spread” should a positive case arise after opening. “Of course, community spread is a serious concern and the college has developed ‘trigger points’ in conjunction with Cheshire Medical Center that would necessitate a shut down if those are reached,” Zimmerman said.
On top of this, Treadwell said that individuals who are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19, such as sports teams and club members, will be more closely monitored. “25 percent of all Keene State faculty, students and staff will be tested every week,” Treadwell said. “By September, everyone on campus will be getting tested weekly. The only way to survive this is to have more testing. This level of testing is why I’m confident that we can stay open.”
Treadwell added that infectious disease leads recommend 10 percent of a population being tested, but the college is prepared to test 25 percent. In order to accomplish this level of testing, the college will open testing sites on campus. The college has already opened a testing site at the parking lot located on Winchester Street in Keene for members of the college who wish to get tested in person.
According to Treadwell, “the college is not taking any chances” this semester. “I think we have a very good shot to stay open, but I will not hesitate to send students home.”
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