By Abby Weingarten
In mid-August, the campus will look entirely different, with strict safety measures—from social distancing and face covering to deep cleaning and comprehensive testing—in order to mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anne Fisher, Ph.D., the program director for New College’s Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC), conducted intensive research to help prepare the new guidelines.
“We’re a community at New College, and if we care about each other and do the best we can in terms of prevention, I think we can do a really good job this fall,” Fisher said. “I also think there are advantages to New College being a small campus. We are the only SUS institution trying to test 100 percent of our students (which is something larger universities simply don’t have the capacity to do because there are just too many people).”
As the campus resumes operations, New College will adhere to requirements from the SUS, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Using personal protective equipment (PPE), engaging in shared responsibility training, and implementing a shorter academic calendar are all elements of the plan.
New College will work to develop a sufficient inventory of PPE and distribute it to employees. Students will receive “welcome kits” that contain a washable cloth face covering, a disposable face mask and hand sanitizer. Everyone will be tested prior to returning, and multiple testing sites are currently available throughout the Sarasota-Manatee area.
Test kits will be mailed to students who cannot pick them up locally, and those who test positive will quarantine at home. New College will continue to test 10 percent of the campus population each week and immediately test anyone with symptoms.
Because New College lacks a medical or public health school for in-house advice, Student Health Services on the adjacent University of South Florida (USF) Sarasota-Manatee campus will provide all medical services.
Contact tracing will likely be done by the Manatee County Health Department in cooperation with USF, or by the Sarasota County Health Department. Positive COVID-19 cases will be referred by USF to the relevant county department of health. All CWC counseling and medical services at New College will be available via telehealth.
“If a student tests positive, they will have a care manager from USF Student Health Services reaching out to them a couple times a day to do self-screening and virtual check-ins,” Fisher said.
In preparation for confirmed cases of infection, New College will set aside 10 rooms to quarantine students who test positive. Having more than 10 COVID-19-positive students in quarantine at the same time will trigger a thorough review of whether New College can safely continue offering face-to-face instruction. The current objective is to offer both in-person and remote learning options.
Employees will return to campus in phases while work spaces are configured to allow proper spacing. To reduce density in work areas, employees will rotate working remotely with working on campus.
Students will also return to campus at staggered times. First-year students will arrive by appointment during a three-day orientation period, and continuing students will return during the following three days. The number of students living on campus (and thus, the density of residential halls) will be reduced. The idea is to have every student occupy a single room, with double rooms available upon request. Students can also live off campus.
The College will follow CDC guidelines when cleaning residence halls. For shared dining environments, Metz Culinary Management will enact food service protocols—including requiring masks and gloves for employees, and sanitizing utensils and stations every 30 minutes.
Cloth face coverings and social distancing will be required in all indoor spaces on campus with more than one individual present (except for bedrooms), as well as in outdoor spaces where more than 10 people are gathered. The health environment of the campus will be monitored using a daily self-screening tool. The academic calendar will be adjusted for 14 weeks of regular classes prior to Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving break, exams and final projects will be completed remotely. The College will allow high-risk employees and students (or those with families at high risk) to work and learn remotely.
“If students have trouble with testing or resources or anything at all, we’re small enough that we can answer individual questions, and that’s a positive thing,” Fisher said. “I think we’re doing a number of things to mitigate our risk in ways our surrounding community is not. I hope we’ll be able to provide leadership to the community to show we’re being very responsible.”
To read the full reopening plan, visit ncf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/New-College-Plan-to-Reopen.pdf.
To see how the College has adapted to remote learning, visit ncf.edu/thrive.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.