Prospect of COVID-19 threatens spring break and beyond

Student Response

The Echo sent out a survey on the night of March 10 asking students for their opinions on how the College should approach maintaining health and safety in the face of COVID-19. 

Over 345 students responded by 11:30 p.m. on March 10. Of students sampled in the survey, 48% of respondents feel that Colby should not shut down. 39% think that Colby should shutdown as Amherst has, and 3% of students are neutral on the subject. 

When it comes to spring break travel, 25% of students surveyed said they plan on staying on campus for spring break. The remaining 75% said that they would be traveling for break in places with confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Over 117 students also provided comments on how they thought Colby should deal with the situation. 

“The school can’t regulate self-quarantine. I think the school should have online classes indefinitely and reimburse room and board for those who leave,” one wary respondent answered. “Please, please, please do not move to remote learning.”

 

The College’s Response

On March 5, Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae `94 sent an email to the Colby community urging students to reconsider their spring break plans and to remain on campus during the week off. Burrell-McRae explained that the College would remain open to accommodate students who choose to stay.

“Because public health and related travel concerns may cause a significant number of students to avoid travel during spring break, residence halls and dining halls will remain open to accommodate having more students on campus,” Burrell-McRae wrote in the email. 

Less than a week later, the spread of the virus has escalated throughout the U.S. According to the New York Times, as of March 10 there were close to 1,000 cases in the U.S. 

More than 100 people have tested positive in California, New York, and Washington. Maine has tested 20 people for COVID-19, and all results are negative. 

Maine is also currently the only state in New England with no confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, according to the Portland Press Herald, health officials have warned that it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches the state. 

Although there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Maine, due to its widespread reach throughout the country the College is considering what type of action to take in response to the potential threat of the virus. 

According to Head Nurse Judith Whyte, “any member of the community who travels to a country that is designated Level 3 by the CDC for personal reasons will be required to self-quarantine.” 

Whyte went on to describe what a self-quarantine would entail.

“[It would] likely be a result of close contact with a confirmed case. There is no CDC guidance at this time that would suggest persons who are not ill and have only travelled within the U.S. self-quarantine. As the COVID-19 situation changes rapidly this could possibly change.”

When it comes to taking preventative measures, Whyte said: “Everyone has a role to play in staying healthy. Practice preventive behaviors!”

“Spread from person-to-person is most likely among close contacts (about 6 feet),” Whyte explained. “It’s currently unknown if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”

There are three prevailing theories concerning what actions the College might undertake as a result of COVID-19. Colby could continue with spring break as planned and hold classes online for the first two weeks after break, during which students would self-quarantine; Colby could cancel in-person classes for the semester, ask students to go home, and hold classes online; or Colby could cancel spring break and have students remain on campus during the week, ideally reducing the threat of bringing the virus to campus. 

In an official notice to the College sent on Tuesday evening, President David Greene updated students about ongoing deliberations. Although no decision was released in the email, Greene stressed that Colby’s ultimate goal is safety and limiting the spread of the virus. 

“Our academic calendar is currently in our favor,” Greene wrote in the email.  “While travel is a primary risk factor in the transmission of this virus, our spring break falls later than most, giving us slightly more time to work through these issues than some of our peers.” 

Greene explained that he is working with many groups on campus like the Student Government Association and is very open to student input. Additionally, Greene had an open meeting with students on March 11 in the Pugh Center to hear their feedback. 

 

Spring Break Travel

Professor David Freidenreich, director of the Jewish studies program at the College, had planned a trip to Germany over Spring break for his class JS346: Jews of Germany, Past and Present. Freidenreich announced Tuesday in class that the trip would be suspended. 

Freidenreich and his students were planning on traveling to Frankfurt, Lorsch, Worms, and Berlin during the week-long trip. 

While there have been a limited number of COVID-19 cases in Germany, Colby is suspending any college-funded travel, domestic or international. An official announcement is expected shortly. 

In an email to the Echo, Freidenreich said that although he had envisioned the trip as an opportunity for students to experience historical sites and contemporary Jewish life first-hand, he ultimately understood Colby’s decision.

“I’m deeply disappointed by the decision to cancel this trip but not at all surprised given current developments. I respect and fully support the college’s policies. We’re currently exploring the possibility of rescheduling the trip for the end of the semester in the hopes that these travel restrictions don’t need to persist,” he wrote. 

Tori Paquette `20, a student in Freidenreich’s class who was planning on attending the Germany trip, says said and her classmates weren’t surprised to hear about the trip’s cancelation.

 “Given the responses of other colleges in the U.S. to COVID-19, it seems a reasonable precaution to me – none of us want to get stuck in Germany or in quarantine if U.S. policy changes over the next two weeks,” Paquette told the Echo

While Paquette is now searching for alternative spring break plans, she stressed the importance of remaining calm.

 “Of course I’m disappointed, and the whole situation feels a bit surreal and scary, but I also know that fear and panic won’t help,” Paquette said. “I’m just hoping we all get to come back from spring break without bringing coronavirus to our community.” 

Other groups on campus had also planned trips over spring break that have been affected by the outbreak. 54 Colby students were planning on driving down to South Carolina to play in a frisbee tournament with about 10 other colleges.

Bennett Allen `20 told the Echo that the Ultimate Frisbee team is considering the best course of action and preparing for all possibilities. 

“We are anticipating what sort of effects might happen, and who might cancel, whether it be the tournament itself, or if the school tells us not to go,” Allen said. 

 

NESCAC Response

While it is currently unclear how the Colby administration will proceed, other institutions have taken drastic steps in order to reduce the risk of transmission. 

On the evening of March 10, administrators at fellow NESCAC Amherst College sent an email informing the student population that classes would not resume on campus until after March 23, and would instead be held virtually. 

“I think it’s pretty fair to say for myself and a lot of the students here that we were pretty rattled,” Amherst sophomore Abdullah Brown-El said in a recent interview with the Echo

“There was a lot of different rumors and speculation about what the administration might do, but I wasn’t really prepared for the semester to end now. I can only imagine how the seniors must feel now as this very well could be the end of the road for them at Amherst.” 

Fellow NESCACs Wesleyan, Tufts, and Middlebury are enacting similar policies. Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. has quarantined seven students and is restricting both domestic and international travel for students over spring break. 

“I’m very surprised we haven’t [shut down like Amherst]” Trinity senior Gillian Reinhard said over Facebook messenger. 

Nearby schools University of New Haven and Yale University have both dismissed students for the semester, implementing the ‘virtual classroom’ policy.

Maine-based Bowdoin and Bates have not yet called off on campus classes. However, Bates has begun to serve meals with disposable utensils. 

“Some teachers are prepping for the possibility of having to do online classes, but I still think we’ll be good to finish the semester,” Bates junior Vanessa Paolella emailed the Echo

Regardless, schools such as Harvard in Boston are dealing with the consequences of an early end to the semester. 

“As a kid on full financial aid my main concern right now is storage,” Harvard first year Esther Kim wrote to the Echo.  

Nevertheless, Colby students are still worried about the future.

“Just a lot of crazy, big life things are happening. You can’t teach studio art remotely. Would they suspend my degree?” Allen `20 questioned. “I don’t think they would, but I have no idea.”