COVID updates: Where are we now?

Nicole Yeager, Assistant News Content Editor

We are seven weeks into the Fall 2020 semester and COVID-19 is still just as present in the minds of the University’s community members — and around the world, as well. With only 18 positive cases on campus thus far, feelings of accomplishment and optimism are well deserved; this being said, the current state should only motivate continued diligence, responsibility, and accountability — all of this was articulated in University President John Bravman’s latest email, with a subject line that read: “Congratulations Are in Order!”

When the University first sent home its students and closed its doors in March, the United States was beginning its battle with the global pandemic. Throughout the summer, students and faculty alike eagerly awaited the news from our University president: would we be returning to campus in the fall, or would we remain home for the semester?

Shortly after speculations were whispered around, students received the much-anticipated email from Bravman on May 27: “At this point, we fully intend on resuming residential education in August. We want you learning, here.” This email also included a list of possibilities outlining and foreshadowing the structure of the coming semester. For the rest of the summer, students received many more emails from Bravman, Dean of Students Amy Badal and Medical Director Catherine O’Neil. Additionally, a “Fall Planning/Reopening” website was created in order to keep students, parents, faculty and staff well-informed.

Now, four short months later, there are many elements of this new reality that we have slowly adjusted to, and many that we will continue to adjust to. The first step was to release the altered academic calendar, which called for students to return to campus a week earlier in August and marks the last day of classes before Thanksgiving Break. In addition to this, students and faculty were given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they would conduct the semester remotely or in person. Next, it was released that Bucknell Student Government (BSG) had created a Student Advisory Group of 17 students who would assist the University in planning for the upcoming semester.

On June 30, President Bravman revealed the “Fall 2020 Student Guide to Campus Life,” a comprehensive document that details the procedures, protocols and regulations, expectations and goals that the University has implemented in response to the pandemic. This guide highlights the following key points: a Community Responsibility Agreement, the My Herd program, sequential testing and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine; face coverings and social distancing protocols as well as other principles of socially responsible behavior; and some details as to modifications that have been made to campus.

The University contracted with TCA/Genetworx to provide each student with two COVID-19 test kits prior to returning to campus. Test kits were mailed to students’ personal residence and could be self-administered. This ensured that all individuals physically returning to campus would be coming with a  recent negative test result. With only a minor hiccup regarding the initial returning students (orientation leaders and assistants), this procedure was successful. Moving forward, the University is also providing all campus community members with free sequential testing every 10-14 days. Individuals can make appointments for these tests through the new “Herd Health” section in the Bucknell app or the linked Aura app.

Another key tool that the University has generated is the “COVID-19 Dashboard,” which can be accessed through the University’s website. The dashboard, first introduced in an email sent on Aug. 13 by Bravman, has continued to evolve and improve in response to feedback from the community of students and faculty. This resource is now updated daily with the following on-campus information: cumulative number of tests administered, cumulative number of positive cases and the current number of positive cases. It also compiles all past numbers and statistics into charts and graphs. The dashboard page also features information regarding the University’s information line, contact tracing system and what happens when a student or faculty member tests positive.

Lastly, the University launched its “My Herd” program in order to check in with students and focus on the strains the pandemic has caused on mental health, as well as provide support and foster accountability. Students were divided into groups of 10-15 students from all different class years and placed into “herds” led by a faculty or staff member. Each herd meets both as a group as well individually; herd leaders also encourage students to complete their daily symptom checking and remain socially responsible.

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