Colleges put COVID plans to the test




With COVID outbreaks at a number of universities in the U.S. resulting in those higher education institutions implementing remote learning for students once more, Winona State University (WSU) and Saint Mary’s University (SMU), where students recently arrived for fall semester, have prepared plans for quarantining, isolating and testing students, and are considering factors from how many people are testing positive to the availability of cleaning supplies as they think through when and if they may have to return to remote learning.

Quarantining and isolating

At WSU, 1,751 students are living on campus. About 200 of those students will have roommates, as they are living in residence halls that are apartment or suite style, according to WSU Director of Housing and Residence Life Paula Scheevel. Those halls have individual bedrooms and private bathrooms.

About 900 students are living on campus at SMU. Around 400 of those students are living in single-occupancy rooms. Students not in single-occupancy rooms may be sharing a space such as a bathroom, kitchen or living room.

Those coming to the WSU campus must fill out an online self-assessment. Individuals will answer questions on the assessment, and if they are experiencing symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, it will direct them to avoid campus that day.

If a WSU student has been in contact with someone who tests positive for 15 minutes or more and at a distance of within six feet, or within 10 to 12 feet if they were being physically active, they will be told to quarantine. They will isolate if they are experiencing symptoms.

A student at WSU who needs to quarantine and who has their own single-occupancy dorm will stay in that room during quarantine and be provided with guidance on how to safely share a bathroom, according to Scheevel. In general, bathrooms will be the sole space that is shared, she said. Students who are quarantining are able to walk outside or get food if they are wearing a mask, according to Scheevel.

WSU students who need to isolate will do so at the Tau Center. A student in isolation at the center will have a single room. They will be on a floor that only contains students who are isolating. Meals will be brought to them.

If a student must quarantine and they live in a double-occupancy room, they may quarantine at the center on a floor that is separate from students in isolation, according to Scheevel and WSU Director of Health and Wellness Services Connie Kamara. There are 90 spaces at the center for students to isolate or quarantine.

A student deciding whether to return home to isolate if they test positive is a choice the university is allowing students and their families to make, according to Scheevel.

If an SMU student has tested positive for COVID, is waiting for the results of a test or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, they will quarantine at the Alverna Center, which has 30 rooms that are ready for use. A student may choose to return home if it is possible for them to do so, SMU Vice President for Student Affairs Timothy Gossen said.

Students will quarantine in their dorms or a certain wing or building if the center becomes full.

Food will be delivered by staff members to students in quarantine at the center or in their rooms. The center and rooms are also equipped to meet students’ technology needs for classes.

Each room at the center has its own bathroom, so bathrooms would not need to be shared by those in quarantine, Gossen explained. A staff member will be available at the center 24 hours a day, and medical staff members will check in with students at the center twice a day.


On the WSU campus, students will be tested if they are experiencing symptoms or if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. Students will contact the university’s Health and Wellness Services to schedule a testing appointment, and they will be tested in a tent in the Integrated Wellness Complex parking lot.

If a student has symptoms and they self-disclose those to the university, WSU will help them with treating symptoms and start reaching out to people with whom they had been in close contact.

SMU is collaborating with Mayo Clinic on testing. Tests will be available at the wellness center on campus. Students will be tested if they have experienced COVID symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

If the test results are positive, contact tracing would then begin. Wellness Center staff would ask the person who had tested positive to begin a list of people with whom they had been in close contact in the last two days. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) next would interview the individual to get the information on the list. MDH then would contact the university, and SMU staff would get in touch with the people on the individual’s list to discuss quarantining.

Before arriving at WSU, some students quarantined, and others did not, according to Scheevel.

SMU students were encouraged to quarantine at home for two weeks before arriving on campus, Gossen said.

Per MDH guidance, students at both universities were not required to be tested prior to coming to school in-person.

Returning to remote learning?

Choosing to shift to online learning for SMU would be based on factors such as how many students are testing positive, how severe the illness is, how many faculty members are able to teach and the situation with the pandemic locally and at the state level, Gossen said.

Some influences that may impact whether WSU closes and goes to remote learning include the availability of cleaning supplies, whether the number of individuals in isolation and quarantine can be handled, whether cases are connected with one another and how quickly the virus is spreading, according to Kamara.

Students in the WSU dorms are able to have two visitors after September 8. If the number of cases rises, the university may put additional limitations on visitors, according to Scheevel.

Residential life staff are not solely responsible for making sure large numbers of students are not meeting in dorms, Gossen noted.

“It’s all of our responsibility, so faculty, staff and students, to hold each other accountable,” Gossen shared. “And one of the most powerful pieces is when a peer reminds another peer to wear a mask or to social distance or to adhere to guidelines that we put forward.”

All members of the SMU community were asked to sign a pledge to signify that they acknowledge their actions impact others and collaboration is necessary to make it out of the pandemic, Gossen said.

Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.


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