By Benjamin Pate ’22 (he/him)
Davidson students have received a number of emails in recent months from Davidson’s COVID Response Team, a group of ten senior college officials tasked with guiding the college’s response to the pandemic. The Team is made up of Kim Ball, Director of Human Resources; Chris Clunie, Athletic Director; Kevin Davis, Chief Information Officer; Philip Jefferson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty; Mark Johnson, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer; Robert Lutz, MD, Davidson’s Primary Care Sports Physician; Ann McCorvey, Chief Financial Officer; Byron McCrae, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students; Sarah Phillips, Vice President and General Counsel; and President Carol Quillen.
As the summer progressed, it became increasingly clear that this school year would be far from normal. Colleges and universities across the United States have taken different approaches to curbing the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses, with differing levels of success. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for instance, reported 135 new COVID-19 cases within a week of starting class, and switched to an online-only format, asking students to leave campus as soon as possible.
On the contrary, Davidson’s Campus COVID-19 Dashboard reported zero on-site students currently testing positive as of Friday,, October 9th
The Davidsonian spoke with Mark Johnson, Davidson’s Chief Communications and Marketing Officer and member of the team via email to understand Davidson’s response to COVID-19, as well as how the team operates and makes decisions.
Johnson pointed to emails Davidson has sent to highlight the Response Team’s decision-making process, starting with President Carol Quillen’s email from April 30th of this year, in which she announced the creation and implementation of Design Teams consisting of students, faculty, and staff. Each team explored options relating to different facets of Davidson life to determine how the college could best ensure a successful reopening during the pandemic. Teams focused on such topics as the first-year experience, digital learning, and building student community.
Johnson noted how, since then, the biggest factor in Davidson’s COVID response has continued to be flexibility. Overall, Davidson has “adapted how we fulfill our mission to the pandemic,” he said, adding that “the key elements to doing that were flexibility, options and testing.”
Johnson pointed to the Team’s previous policy banning guests in dorms, which was enacted on August 27th due to higher positive test numbers towards the start of the semester. On September 18th, however, the administration has allowed students to have one guest per dorm room, regardless of whether it is a double, single, suite, or other type of room. Since one guest per room became policy, Davidson has seen two total new COVID-19 cases, and has stayed at zero cases since September 24th, according to the Dashboard.
In terms of flexibility for students, Johnson noted that, contrary to Davidson’s normal housing policies, which require nearly all students not studying abroad to live on campus, the college made multiple housing “options available because this is how, under very difficult circumstances, we can fulfill our mission and our commitment to each [student].”
Johnson asserted the importance of every member of the Davidson community, particularly on-campus students, in mitigating risk from the virus. “This has to be a community commitment, one that we all make together,” Johnson said. “If we choose to live on campus or to be on campus, we will commit to safeguarding our own health and that of our community.”
Another prong of Davidson’s COVID response is, of course, the weekly testing of all students living on and around campus. Johnson described the reasoning behind the current testing plan.
“There is no uniform recommendation for a testing regimen,” Johnson said. “Davidson is following a testing plan that works well for the college.”
Johnson disclosed that the weekly testing costs Davidson over $200,000 per week, or $10 million over the course of the semester, adding that the current plan allows Davidson to add additional tests on a case-by-case basis, as the college did when it tested all first-year students at the end of August.
Looking to the future, Johnson commented on the college’s plans for scheduling the spring semester, as Davidson released its Spring 2021 semester schedule on September 10th.
“Students, faculty and staff on the calendar team needed time to assess how changes in the fall calendar were working and to provide enough notice for members of the community to make plans.” He added that the Response Team and the college at large “will adapt to meet changing circumstances” as the year progresses.