Town Hall: COVID-19 updates and what to expect on campus

Nicole Yeager, News Editor

In response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases on the University’s campus, Bucknell Student Government (BSG) President Wilder Brice ’22, Dean of Students Amy Badal and University President John Bravman held a virtual town hall to address a litany of important topics and answer questions directly from the student body. The event was held on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m over Zoom Webinar. Students were able to submit their questions through a link sent out in an email on the previous Monday, and the questions were moderated by Brice.  

The town hall was opened up by Brice, who expressed his hope that everyone is doing well and staying safe. Bravman then began by thanking everyone for their cooperation throughout the entire semester thus far and urging all to continue to do all they can. Bravman reminded attendees of the following facts about the virus: 1) the incubation period lasts from three to six days, in which a person who is infected might not test positive but still have the virus; 2) many people, especially college students, are likely to be asymptomatic, and these individuals can still be highly contagious; 3) the CDC has recently broadened their definition of exposure to cover a more comprehensive range of interactions; 4) uncertainty still abounds around contact tracing, and it is impossible to pinpoint every single interaction one has had throughout a given day; and 5) living and learning on a college campus not only means we are living in a very densely populated environment but that others live in that environment and require the same discretion and consideration we’d expect from them. Bravman urged students to think about how all these factors “drives our need to be very conservative with our decision making” and to “remember these factors when considering the actions that have been taken.” 

Badal then took a moment to thank all the students for their resilience and their patience. “We certainly recognize that this has not been easy and that it has not been the college experience many of you might have hoped for[; however,] I am proud of everyone, we have made it this far together and we are asking you to hold on for the last three weeks,” she said.

Brice then presented a number of questions submitted by students on the following topics: 

 

Current COVID-19 Policies on Campus 

To address some of the confusion and questions regarding the current COVID-19 policies on campus, especially with the recent increase in cases, Badal went over each policy and regulation. All students, faculty and staff are required to wear proper face coverings both on- and off-campus; social distancing is encouraged in private and enforced in public, and activities like washing hands and generally maintaining proper hygiene – more or less outlined in the Community Agreement issued at the beginning of the semester – remain vital to preventing the potential spread of the virus. Badal and Bravman clarified that students are not required to remain in their rooms; on the contrary, they are encouraging students to get outside and roam around campus to maintain physical and mental health, only in smaller groups of three to five people. Students are also permitted to travel within the mandated thirty-mile radius of campus, in order to complete grocery runs and other necessary errands within the Lewisburg area. The President shared that anyone traveling beyond thirty miles will be required to learn remotely, since the two-week isolation necessary to obviate spread will overlap significantly with the three remaining weeks in the Fall semester. Noting the surge now developing across the country, Bravman urged restraint, prudence and judgment on part of the students to get through the remainder of the semester. 

 

Isolation Housing

Brice then moved on to the next student-submitted question: “With the recent increase of cases on campus, one point of concern is isolation housing; what will happen if we reach max capacity?” Bravman began his response by reminding attendees that the CDC-recommended isolation period, both for individuals who have tested positive and for those who have been exposed to positive individuals, is two weeks. He noted that the University has increased the number of rooms reserved for isolation housing in order to accommodate this mandate in the context of our burgeoning COVID-positive population. Furthermore, Bravman said that the administration would expect some students who are in isolation for an extended period of time to willingly leave campus and return home for the remainder of the semester. It was also reported that the 10 positive cases, all in isolation at this point, were from six different dorms. He concluded by noting that there have been 800 tests administered on Monday and 900 administered on Tuesday. 

 

Plan to Return to In-Person Education

In terms of a plan to return to in-person education for the week of Nov. 3, Bravman and Badal were unable to provide a concrete answer, as the decision will be dependent on if COVID numbers continue to rise once the entirety of this week’s test results are received. If we see a very small number of new positive cases, the chances of resuming some in-person classes are possible; however, if there are more positive cases (less than double digits), it will be more likely to expect remote education for the remainder of the semester. “I would love to finish our last three weeks as we have been all semester, but we won’t know until all the tests are in at the end of the week,” Bravman said.

 

Concern Surrounding Admission Tours 

Another concern raised referenced admission tours, the invitation of prospective students and their families onto campus for tours, which has continued through the latter half of the semester. In response to this, Bravman noted that we are an open campus in the prime of visitation time. Furthermore, he said that being open has been a point of pride for the University and that the tours have been kept small to ensure that they follow safety regulations. This being said, all tours for the week have been canceled. 

 

Spring Semester 

Brice next shared a common concern among students about how this second wave of the pandemic might affect the spring semester; along with this, he mentioned the situations in local and national areas. Bravman mentioned that the dates of the upcoming spring semester have been set, with classes starting on Feb. 1, and that they want to make that happen as much as possible. He went on to say that the motivation that they had over the summer to bring students to campus in the fall, which was confirmed by the fact that 98 percent of students returned, is the same motivation they have for the next semester. This being said, he recognized that what’s going on in the country at the time will be a significant influencing factor. Badal added to this, detailing some of the set procedures for the upcoming semester: 7,000 test kits have been ordered to provide students with the same pre-arrival testing process, and that the collections of room keys prior to winter break will help to ensure its success. 

 

Halloween Weekend & Election Day 

Students also expressed concerns about upcoming national events, namely Halloween and Election Day on Nov. 3, leading to increased gathering and socializing throughout the weekend into next week. “I would ask everyone to be very thoughtful and think about where we are — we are in a global pandemic,” Badal said. “It is simply not worth the risk,” Bravman said. “We understand activity downtown has picked up in the past few weeks, we all want to socialize and feel a sense of normalcy, but we are a community and I ask everyone to think about their actions — play your role and be smart.” Specifically in regard to Election Day, they recognized the odd juxtaposition between staying safe and exercising one’s civic duty. Bravman assured students that, “we will not interfere with any student’s right to vote.” They also mentioned the many efforts that have been made campus-wide to get all students registered to vote — in person and by mail. 

The three ended this town hall with the following sentiment: “Be smart and be thoughtful — let’s finish strong, let’s finish 14 weeks here in person.”

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