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COVID-19: Campus life gets back on track

Local universities navigating steadily through pandemic

Regional colleges and universities report they are making their way through the semester relatively smoothly despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the challenges posed by positive cases, schools are making the best of it, officials reported, continuing to operate at a level as close to normalcy as possible.

Schools are requiring masks, making hand sanitizer available, disinfecting classrooms and contact tracing when someone tests positive.

According to Penn State Altoona Director of Strategic Communications Jonathan O’Harrow, students are experiencing a mostly normal semester and are happy to be back.

“Our students are thrilled to be back on campus, enjoying an in-person college experience, many of them for the first time,” O’Harrow said. “Our faculty and staff feel similarly and are glad to be able to support our students as they return to campus.”

This return to campus depends on the university community’s compliance with mitigation measures, such as universal masking and testing for students who haven’t shared their vaccination status.”

For the most part, students and faculty have been cooperative.

O’Harrow said. “Instances of non-compliance are extremely rare and are usually addressed without any issues.”

The same is true at Saint Francis University, according to Vice President for Communications and Marketing Erin McCloskey, who said the semester is “moving quickly and successfully.”

“We feel blessed that our community is very dedicated to finishing the semester in-person,” McCloskey said. “Faculty, staff and students know that in order to do so, compliance is necessary. Our Student Government Association has worked hard to regularly communicate with their peers to remind them of their commitment to personal responsibility for following guidance, which ultimately will allow us to successfully navigate the semester.”

Saint Francis has both testing and vaccination clinics available.

According to McCloskey, the university has had nine positive cases since the beginning of the semester.

Juniata College Director of Environmental Health and Safety Roy Nagle said his institution has ensured a smooth semester through measures including a vaccine mandate and universal masking, though he said there are some exceptions to the masking rule. In residence halls and dining areas, for example, students do not need to wear masks, Nagle said.

“I think the semester is going well,” Nagle said. “We knew the key to a safe and normal semester was vaccinations.”

Nagle reported that the vaccination rates for both students and employees are 87.4% as of Thursday.

For those who are unvaccinated, weekly testing is in place.

According to Nagle, the college has had seven positive cases since the beginning of the semester.

Mount Aloysius Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Sam Wagner said, “We’re quite pleased with how our fall semester is progressing. Within our COVID-19 protocols, we’ve reintroduced nearly all of the social elements, which are so important to the college experience. This includes attendance at athletic

events, student life activities, academic sessions, mission and ministry programming and more. With that said, we are staying vigilant, as our guidelines demonstrate.”

The shift toward normalcy has been good for the community, Wagner said. It’s brought life back to campus despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Lessening restrictions on social activities has helped generate greater morale than last academic year,” Wagner said. “Of course, there are still signs of stress, anxiety and general weariness in our community, just like everywhere else. That is why we have focused so specifically on mental health and overall well-being over the past 12 months.”

Currently, Wagner said, there are 11 active virus cases, though all are off campus.

Penn Highlands Community College has “successfully managed to teach all classes as originally planned” despite the pandemic, according to the college’s Director of Marketing and Communications Raymond Weible.

The college is offering in-person, online and virtual learning formats this semester.

Weible said the community has been cooperative.

“For the most part, the majority of our students, staff, and faculty have been extremely compliant of our mask rule,” Weible said. “There is the occasional person that forgets or doesn’t have a mask on, however when asked to put one on, they comply. We have masks available in many areas of our college facilities in case someone has forgotten their own.”

Weible said the college has seen “only a handful” of positive cases this semester.

At Allegany College of Maryland, which has a campus in Bedford County, there has been an uptick in cases, though guidelines in place are helping to mitigate that, according to Communications Specialist Kristin Kehrwald.

The college established a COVID-19 command team, which vets reports of possible exposures from students and employees, and offers guidance with testing and quarantining. Two staff members on that team are at the Bedford County campus.

The team reported 33 positive cases between Aug. 23 and Sept. 23.

Kehrwald said there is “general compliance” with guidelines at the college, but it hasn’t been easy.

“Understandably, the pandemic is wearing on all of us in ways big and small,” Kehrwald said. “Keeping our college community connected and engaged is tough.”

Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.

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