Eric Brown was hoping he wouldn’t have to begin his freshman year at Keene State College under COVID-19 protocols like regular testing and mandatory indoor masking.
“But whatever, it’s COVID,” said Brown, a Londonderry resident planning to study cybersecurity. “You have to work around it.”
Like all of the roughly 725 first-year students who moved to campus Wednesday, Brown first went to the Keene State Athletic Complex on Krif Road to be tested for the novel coronavirus before he moved into The Commons residence hall. With these sorts of health and safety measures in place, Brown said he’s not really concerned about COVID-19 on campus, even with the rise of the more contagious delta variant.
“I’m not too worried,” he said, noting that he and his roommate are both vaccinated against the disease. “... I’m just glad we’re not [taking classes] online. At least we’re here.”
Brown’s stepmother, Meredith, agreed, and said she thought Keene State did well facilitating the first-year move-in process Wednesday.
“They’re doing all the right things and still making it welcoming and enjoyable for the kids,” she said. “So I think the school’s done a really great job with balancing their responsibility and then understanding the kids, what their needs are and what their experience, especially as freshmen, should be.”
This balance, Keene State President Melinda Treadwell said, is exactly what the college tries to strike when it welcomes new students to campus.
“It’s honestly one of my favorite things that we do,” she said. “The move-in is an opportunity for this campus to welcome our new students and their families in a way that is unique. … I think it’s just part of saying, ‘We’re here to help get you settled, get you started.’ So I love it.”
And after more than a year and a half of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Treadwell said she believes Keene State can continue to keep students and employees safe and healthy in the new academic year.
“We proved we could not only survive but thrive during COVID last year,” she said. “We did a lot of our normal work, and our students loved being here. So I’m confident, with COVID, we can manage it.”
This begins with the arrival testing, Treadwell said, which will help the school get a baseline of the coronavirus’ presence on campus. Keene State is working with a lab at the University of New Hampshire in Durham to conduct COVID-19 tests this year, and the college would have results from Wednesday morning by the end of the day, Treadwell said. Upperclassmen return to campus this weekend, and will follow a similar testing procedure ahead of the first day of classes Monday.
Along with Keene State’s roughly 3,100 students, all of the college’s 633 employees will be tested for COVID-19 before the new school year begins, spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said. Weekly campus-wide testing will continue at least through September, Ricaurte said, at which point the college will re-evaluate how often testing is necessary, based on the public health situation on campus and in the community.
Anyone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus at Keene State will be contacted by the school’s Rapid Response Team, which will provide instructions for isolating, and quarantining for unvaccinated close contacts of people who test positive. Fully vaccinated students and employees who come in close contact with infected people will not need to quarantine.
Due to a new state law, Keene State, along with the rest of New Hampshire’s public university system, will not require a COVID-19 vaccine this fall. But, Keene State 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 Wednesday, Ricaurte said about 69 percent of faculty and staff and 46 percent of students have provided proof of vaccination, but the college expects those figures to grow daily as more people return to campus.
Alyssa Leonard, a freshman from Bellows Falls, is fully vaccinated, which her mother, Jen, said gives her peace of mind moving into her dorm.
“So I feel like we’ve taken the precautions that we can to keep her healthy,” Jen Leonard said. “And I think she’ll know to wash her hands. I think last year would have been harder, but I think coming into this year, everybody has a pretty good handle on how to go about it.”
Alyssa, who plans to study elementary education, added that she feels comfortable with the health and safety measures Keene State has enacted for her first semester, including a mask requirement in buildings on campus, and for outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
“I guess I hoped that we wouldn’t be having to wear masks, but it’s not really a surprise,” she said. “... I feel like Keene has a really good COVID protocol in place. I feel safe on campus.”
Spencer Mirken, a freshman from Holliston, Mass., who plans to study sports management and play basketball at Keene State, said he also feels like the college’s reopening plan will keep him and his peers safe.
“I think the school’s got it covered,” Mirken said as he moved into his dorm room in The Commons on Wednesday morning. “Even just being here today, it looks super organized, which is great, and it’s really clean, which is also a huge deal.”
Mirken added that he’s excited to get started at Keene State, and meet his new classmates and teammates. In short, he said, he’s looking forward to a regular college experience.
“I just want a smooth year, really,” he said, “and a sense of normalcy.”