By Sabrina Edwards
Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases at Grand Valley State University, Ottawa County Department of Public Health officials are telling all students on and off campus to stay in place for two weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID.
Starting this Thursday students are being asked to stay at home until Oct. 1. Students are still being asked to attend classes in-person and are able to leave to get food, go to medical appointments, as well as attend religious events. Although discouraged by health officials, students associated with intercollegiate varsity sports can still go to practice, but a licensed physician must be present during the entire process.
There have been more than 600 COVID cases tied to the college since Aug. 23. Today GVSU representatives said in a press conference that there are currently 370 active cases including, four faculty cases, 48 on-campus students, 273 off-campus in Ottawa County, 25 off-campus in Kent County, and 24 off-campus in other counties. With 277 being on the quarantine list currently.
“We’ve been monitoring our students’ behavior, but we’ll put more students out and about in order to make adjustments to student behavior,” said Philomena Mantella, President of GVSU. “This order requires students to wear a mask outdoors, if the student has failed to do so, to first remind and then move to an action that can lead to repercussions if there is consistent violation of the public health requirements. The majority of our students are doing a great job following the guidance so it’s really finding those exceptions quickly and addressing them first with education and then with more compliant strategies.”
While at Grand Rapids Community College during the first week of instruction the college reported no cases of COVID-19. GRCC reported four student cases during the second week of classes spanning from the week of Sept. 7-13.
GVSU will be increasing patrolling on campus in order to make sure that students are following the mandates. Some consequences of failing to comply are probation, suspension, or expulsion. However, the school will be starting with educating students on the importance of adhering to the mandate.
“I want to highlight that this is not a quarantine,” said Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration and interim director of the Virus Action Team. “This is a stay-at-home order from the county health department. It’s very specific about what our students can do, they’re still expected to go to class and the university will still be operating as normally.”
GVSU is testing students randomly as well as students who are symptomatic and asymptomatic. Weekly, they are testing those who are in close contact with many students like resident assistants. This testing will still be occurring during the stay-at-home order.
“Our testing program is focused on containment, that’s the objective,” said Mantella. “We’re going to test as much as we can, we’re going to look for hotspots and retest. We’re less concerned about how our numbers appear and more concerned about that our numbers are doing the job.”
Mantella said GVSU is trying to promote contact tracing between students, by educating students on the importance of it and what counts as a contact. Students are launching peer-to-peer campaigns to encourage others to follow the ordinance.
“I think GVSU hasn’t handled the pandemic very well,” said Benjamin Sanders a 20-year-old GVSU student. “Yesterday they opened the rec center and then the next day we have a stay-at-home order. It should have been enforced better at the start.”
Sander’s feels like GVSU won’t be able to effectively enforce the mandate, and that students won’t adhere to it. Other students agree as well.
“I definitely do not think people are going to listen to it,” said Maddy Yetman, a 19-year-old GVSU student. “I wear a mask when I walk around campus to begin with, but I don’t think everyone will. I don’t think they’re handling it very well, if COVID is this much of an issue they should just close the campus. I saw more parties this past weekend than during welcome week, so cases are definitely going to go up.”
GVSU officials said the college will not be making any change to in-person classes due to having “no evidence that transmission is happening within the classroom.” About 20% of GVSU’s classes are face-to-face, 40% are hybrid, and the rest are online. Online courses are being offered more to older students and graduate students while more in-person classes are being offered to freshmen to aid in the transition to college.
All facilities on campus will be remaining open, because they have already been set up to allow students to be socially distant.
“We expected to identify cases,” said Sanial. “We have a very aggressive testing program. With our testing program we were expecting to have cases, the number, I don’t think we necessarily knew the number, but the key is to identify the cases whether you have them or not and get those people isolated and in quarantine to stop the spread. We could’ve not done testing and our numbers would’ve been much lower, but we probably wouldn’t be the safe community we are right now.”
Mantella said that this will be something that will impact the school for multiple years and that shifting to online learning won’t help everyone. Stating that shifting will impact student learning and the experience.
“We have 40 students that are taking nothing but online classes that have tested positive,” said Sanial. “Being online isn’t going to prevent students from getting the virus.”