With finals quickly approaching, SRU is starting to prepare for the spring 2021 semester with relatively the same protocols in hopes that students can have more in-person classes and social activities by fall 2021.
The spring 2021 semester will implement new rapid testing regulations in which SRU will use saliva-based PCR COVID-19 testing. SRU President William Behre hopes by Thanksgiving the university will have made their final decisions about the new type of testing, including the specific testing supplier they are going with.
Behre said he and the university are trying to be responsive to the community that “clearly wants to have more face-to-face activities.” They are going to carry out this type of testing that has newly become “more accurate and more cost-effective,” according to Behre.
He said that it will “easily be a seven-figure effort” to have access to this technology, but it will “not make us go broke.” He added that at least it is not going to be a ten-figure effort.
SRU is continually working with the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) to work toward a definite protocol for next semester, which includes this new method of rapid testing.
As for the procedures of this rapid testing, Behre said he does not know any specifics yet. He added that many different groups of people in the university are looking at what things would look like going forward, including academics, housing and social life on campus.
“Testing will allow you to know if someone has been exposed quicker than if you just wait for symptoms to show up,” Behre said. “Right now, everything is symptomatically-based on our testing. But, when you move to asymptomatic [testing], then you have a greater chance of catching these things.”
He emphasized that whatever testing method they come up with for the next semester, they have to combine that with the messages delivered to students. Students are reminded that they need to do their part as well, which includes being mindful of their behavior and following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocols. He said no matter what regulations they implement, a singular student’s poor behavior could undermine their efforts.
Behre said they cannot require students to take part in the testing. However, they can implement a wristband policy, where whoever has been tested wears a wristband and can participate in more activities than those that did not partake in testing. He added that these specific protocols are not concrete yet.
Other than the new policies, Behre said the university will continue to implement most of the same protocols from this semester to reduce risk on campus. This includes having a limited population that lives on campus, sanitizing as much as possible, contact tracing and shutting down face-to-face class instruction when there is “an abundance of exposures,” according to Behre.
Behre observed that the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools that were successful in their protocols this semester were those that did a good job convincing their students to regulate their off-campus behavior and kept up with symptomatic testing on their campuses. Behre said those are two factors that SRU can work toward.
Right now, according to Behre, many conversations are happening about the spring 2021 semester. He and the university are talking about athletics specifically. Behre said that if SRU resumes sports competitions, they will have to meet NCAA standards.
If athletic competitions do not resume next semester, Behre hopes that athletics can at least have workouts together.
Similarly, he said this also goes for dancers and band members as well. Behre is hoping that students will be able to have more in-person practices and social interaction either next semester or the following.
Behre does not anticipate there being a shift in classes for next semester. However, he emphasized that the university’s goal is to have more face-to-face interactions by the fall 2021 semester.
With the COVID-19 vaccine that Pfizer and President-Elect Joe Biden have been working on, Behre said there could be some positive effects that come out of that for SRU. However, he said because college students may not necessarily be a top priority to get vaccinated, there is a chance that we could go into the fall 2021 semester with the vast majority of the campus population being unvaccinated “just because of a scale issue.”
But as for the rest of this semester, Behre does not anticipate any “systemic shifts” in classes or on-campus living, unless there is a big jump in cases that would cause students with face-to-face classes to move online.