By Hannah Dugan ’21, Photo Editor
“It will be different, but it will be a glorious adventure.” Those were the parting words of Dr. Chris Alexander, Director of Parent Giving, to Davidson students during the July 15th town hall regarding the upcoming semester.
Dr. Alexander was joined by President Carol Quillen, Dean of Students Byron McCrae, Dean of Faculty Philip Jefferson, and Dr. Robert Lutz, the primary sports physician for Davidson athletes and leader of Davidson’s COVID-19 prevention efforts.
In an attempt to increase transparency, Davidson hosted a Zoom webinar to answer questions from Davidson students about the fall semester. The chat function was disabled and administrators hand-picked a few of the most commonly-asked questions, such as “Will the gym be open?” and “Will faculty adjust workloads for a remote, and shortened, semester?”
When asked about the use of pre-selected questions and absence of real-time interaction with administrators, Morgan Oestereich ’21 said, “it seems nearly impossible that the school wouldn’t have a bias in selecting which questions to answer. […] It felt more so we were watching a board meeting than a true town hall.”
Before the town hall, Oestereich was already uncertain about returning to campus in the fall. She “was hoping to hear that the school was taking drastic and extensive measures to keep students, staff, and faculty safe […and] to be pleasantly surprised by what measures the school had decided to take to protect everyone on campus.”
While many students are planning to return to campus, Oestereich is not, as the town hall did not meet her aspirations. Instead she believes the college’s protocols indicate that they are “unprepared.” She also described Davidson’s urge to hold face-to-face instruction as “baffling,” especially when now “cases are higher, the disease is better understood, and the risks are more clear.”
On the webinar, Dr. Lutz, an emergency-trained physician with experience in healthcare, tried to clarify Davidson’s protocols for potential COVID-positive cases on campus. Every day, each student will be required to check in with an app on their phone and take their temperature. This will help separate “COVID-associated symptoms,” such as a sore throat or watery eyes, from “the red symptoms,” which include high fever and shortness of breath among others, according to Dr. Lutz. Students with red symptoms are more likely to be tested. While waiting for results — which could take as long as four days — students will be required to self-isolate.
All students will also test themselves for COVID-19 before they return to campus. In an August 5th email, President Quillen stated that the college will test all students weekly during the semester. If an outbreak does occur on campus, administrators believe they have the capacity to monitor and limit its impact.
However, Dr. Lutz believes the college is unlikely to experience this type of outbreak. “We’re gonna have a fairly low number of symptomatic students,” he said. “Most young people do very, very well [with the disease].”
The college will place symptomatic and COVID-positive students in isolation rooms, where they will be “enrolled […] in a virtual hospital.” Although students will not have direct physical monitoring, they will have a thermometer and pulse oximeter, which measures oxygen levels. According to Dr. Lutz, the system is monitored by Atrium nurses, who are “very experienced in identifying who might be trending worse.”
This system, Dr. Lutz said, “has been working in Charlotte [and] has kept a lot of people out of the hospital.” In terms of food, Dean McCrae clarified that the college is prepared to “arrange a daily service, like dropping it off at your door.”
According to Davidson College’s job board, the position for Isolation Quarantine Care Coordinator, whose job description includes check-ins with students, coordinating food delivery, and personal item retrieval, has yet to be filled as of August 7th.
The college will allow roommates of COVID-positive students to remain in their own room with a single occupancy. Dr. Lutz asks that these students “be extremely diligent about protective measures.” According to Dr. Lutz, the college will ask roommates to take “a step back from the student population and see how it shakes out.” This involves quarantining in their room, coordinating food deliveries, and attending class virtually. Even if roommates test negative, they will be asked to remain in quarantine for 14 days because the tests may not detect a minimal load of the virus.
According to Dr. Lutz, the college is unsure at this time whether a campus closure like that in March 2020 is a possibility.
While the town hall addressed many questions surrounding protocol for sick students, questions about protective measures and protocol for staff who become ill still remain unanswered. As of publication, Dean Byron McCrae did not respond to comment on whether Physical Plant employees will receive hazard pay.
According to Dean Philip Jefferson, the college provides healthcare to all full-time employees and healthcare to adjunct and visiting professors if they teach a minimum of three classes per year. The college does not provide healthcare to part-time employees (30 or fewer hours per week). Dean Jefferson said that part-time employees “ asked us to stop offering it” so they could participate in the healthcare exchange, a service which enables small businesses, families, and individuals to shop for affordable healthcare plans.
If a professor becomes sick, the existing policy will remain roughly the same — the department chairperson will coordinate a substitute professor to cover the sick colleague’s classes.
Faculty and staff face many challenges that compound the risk of infection. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District has announced that all schools will start the semester remotely and remain so for an indeterminate time. When asked how the college would accommodate faculty who face childcare issues, Dean Jefferson said that “the college is providing a premium membership for all employees to Care.com” and has compiled a list of agencies and resources for childcare locally.
The college has consistently assured the student body that academics will continue, in-person or remotely, despite the circumstances. However, during the town hall, administrators did little to address other areas of student life, such as extracurricular organizations and social opportunities.
On the Davidson College Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page, a response states that Davidson Outdoors is planning socially-distant excursions, such as hiking and fly-fishing. The Physical Education Department is also compiling a video library of exercise classes and planning reduced-capacity, in-person activities. The Student Activities Fair plans to continue with programming, but details have not been clarified, while the Union Board and other student organizations are “working on creative programming.”
Most recently, the college changed the timing of move-in to account for circumstances in the local area. Upperclass students were originally scheduled to move in between August 16th and August 19th. On Thursday, August 6th, less than two weeks before students were set to move in, President Quillen sent an email that pushed back move-in dates by as much as two weeks. Now, upperclass students (except those who require international travel) will move in the weekend of August 22nd or the weekend of the 29th. Some students will attend their first two days of class virtually and some seven.
According to President Quillen, this change will “allow us to adapt, if necessary, the plan and processes we’ve developed” and “implement weekly testing for residential students even as the testing landscape changes.”
President Quillen acknowledged that the positivity rate is stable but not clearly declining. In Mecklenburg County, the positivity rate was 8.7 percent as of August 5th. On July 19th, just one day before the town hall, Mecklenburg County reported a positivity rate of 10.9 percent. The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate of 5 percent or under as the indicator for whether the virus is under control.
The same day President Quillen sent her email informing students about changes to the move-in schedule, Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina would remain in the Phase Two of “Safer-at-Home” restrictions until at least September 11th.
As the college moves forward with the fall semester, Oestereich posed this question to administrators: “If a single student, staff, or faculty member dies due to exposure on campus, will it have been worth it?”