Despite the post-holiday COVID-19 surge, local colleges are planning to navigate in-person instruction in the spring semester, with continued coronavirus mitigation strategies.
Keene State College and Franklin Pierce University in Rindge have scheduled classes to begin Jan. 18 and 19, respectively. And although colleges across the country have chosen to delay the start of the semester or incorporate more remote learning, the two Monadnock Region institutions say they are planning to begin on campus and according to schedule.
“Currently, Keene State College plans to return fully face-to-face for the spring 2022 semester, especially due to our campus community’s efforts in the fall which resulted in low case numbers,” Mary Beth “MB” Lufkin, vice president for enrollment and student engagement, said Monday in an email to The Sentinel.
Between Aug. 23 and Dec. 21, the college — which has about 3,100 students and 630 staff — conducted more than 56,000 surveillance tests with a total of 196 confirmed cases for a 0.35 percent positivity rate, according to Keene State’s online COVID-19 dashboard.
All students and employees will be tested ahead of the start of the spring term, Lufkin said. The tests are processed by the University of New Hampshire, which returns results within 24 to 48 hours.
Protocols from the fall semester will remain in place, including requiring masks, limiting gathering sizes, and “additional operational protocols which will be available in the coming weeks,” Lufkin said, though she did not specify what those measures could entail.
The college is also scheduled to host two public vaccine clinics, both in the Lantern Room on the first floor of the student center. The first is scheduled for Jan. 6 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the second on Jan. 13 from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“[Keene State College] will continue to take this pandemic seriously and do our part to stop the spread to preserve our already overwhelmed healthcare system,” Lufkin said.
Due to a state law passed last year, Keene State is not requiring COVID-19 vaccines this school year. But the college is encouraging all students and staff to get the shot and consider sharing proof of vaccination with the school’s Wellness Center through a confidential online portal.
As of Dec. 20, the latest available data, 78 percent of Keene State staff and students had reported being vaccinated, according to a report from the college.
Last year, Keene State delayed the start of the spring semester by three weeks and eliminated spring break to reduce students’ travel to and from campus. The college currently does not have plans to delay the start of the upcoming semester, according to Lufkin.
Franklin Pierce University is also planning for in-person instruction this semester, according to Director of Communications Kathryn Grosso Gann.
Similar to Keene State, Franklin Pierce delayed students’ return for the spring semester last year by a week and also canceled spring break, though hasn’t announced any plans to take similar action this year.
The private university has about 1,200 students and 235 employees at its Rindge campus and required all (except those with medical or religious exemptions) to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the fall semester. Students returning for the spring semester will require a negative result from a COVID-19 test administered no more than 72 hours before arriving on campus or beginning classes, Grosso Gann said. Students with vaccine exemptions will be retested at health services before checking in.
After students have returned, the university will continue to test those who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms and conduct additional testing if there is an outbreak on campus, according to the university’s website.
In the meantime, Grosso Gann said the school is looking forward to welcoming students back to campus and that officials will continue to adjust their plans in response to the public health situation.
“We are monitoring current case counts and spread in the region and will continue to evaluate and make decisions that are in the best interest of our students,” she said.