As many colleges and universities continue to conduct all or the majority of classes remotely, Montclair State University (MSU) has announced plans to increase in-person classes for its Spring semester from 40 percent (32% hybrid, 8% face-to-face) to 50 percent.
The university, which has a large commuter student population, also said it plans to limit classes available to students who choose to stay fully remote for Spring, according to the Montclairion. These students would be discouraged from registering for any courses labeled “HawkMIX” and instead, will be directed to register for classes that are online only. The “HawkMIX” classes are hybrid courses that meet both in-person and online.
The announcement comes at a time when New Jersey is seeing an increase in its daily number of positive cases. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced 712 new positive cases in the state Sunday — the fourth time in the last 10 days that the state’s number of new cases was more than 600.
“This is not a time to ease restrictions. We are seeing numbers trending up in New Jersey, and we know indoor activities are at higher risk than outdoors,” says Dr. Stephanie Silvera, epidemiologist and a professor of Public Health at MSU. “I don’t know that increasing the number of in-person classes indoors on campus is necessarily the safest option.”
COVID-19 Cases on Campus
Since reopening this fall, MSU has reported 10 confirmed cases on campus (nine students, one employee). Most recently, two residential students tested positive on Thursday, September 17. According to the University, one student is isolating on campus and the other has been isolating at home.
All of these students’ close contacts have been notified and placed in quarantine, as required by MSU’s policy.
Montclair State requires students and staff to complete a daily online self-assessment, called Hawk Check, each day. It also offers students a list of testing sites in the area, but is not requiring additional testing for residential students unless their health care provider thinks it is necessary, says MSU spokesman Andrew Mees.
Mees adds that the University only requires testing for student-athletes and students in “high contact” areas like the performing arts.
The absence of regular testing can lead to asymptomatic individuals spreading the virus.
“Students fall into the age group that is less likely to be symptomatic, so they are less likely to get tested. That doesn’t mean they are not carrying the virus,” says Silvera. People infected with COVID-19 are the most contagious one to two days before symptoms appear.
Silvera said many professors have utilized outdoor spaces on campus as a way to safely meet in person. She is concerned that when the Spring semester starts in January, cold weather will take away that option.
“It’s also really challenging to keep windows open inside when it’s freezing outside,” she adds.
Silvera believes all schools, including K-12 institutions, should be looking at which types of instruction cannot be done as effectively when remote, such as arts programs where you need studio space or labs for science. There are classes that are just as effective when taught remotely, says Silvera, adding that MSU has offered online classes for 10 years.
“We shouldn’t be thinking ‘how many people can we get on campus,’ but rather ‘who needs to be on campus?'” says Silvera. “Then, those students and staff can be kept safe through routine testing.”
Silvera cited the use of the rapid antigen test routinely as a way of keeping both students and staff safe and getting a more accurate public health picture of the impact of the virus.