A Year for the Books: An Overview of COVID-19 at PC This Academic Year
by Hannah Langley ’21
Since the formation of this committee, PC students have become all too familiar with emails and text notifications for daily screenings, weekly testing schedules, and other updates.
An email from Dr. Sean Reid, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, explained the mix of classes that would be offered going into the fall semester. The mix of in-person, hybrid, split, hy-flex, and remote classes gave faculty the ability to choose the way in which they wished to teach their classes. It also gave students who decided to remain remote and not return to campus greater flexibility.
Not long into the fall semester, a COVID-19 outbreak occurred. On Sept. 17, Fr. Sicard announced that the College would be shifting to “total remote learning at least through September 26” after over 80 students tested positive in the span of two days. On-campus students were directed to not leave campus, and stay-at-home orders were put in place for all off-campus students. By Sept. 19, the number of cases rose to about 138 positive students.
On Sept. 25, Fr. Sicard announced that remote instruction and stay-at-home directives for students would last until Oct. 3. Just a few days later, the date was extended to Oct. 8 for on-campus students and Oct. 12 for off-campus students.
The outbreak led to several initiatives by the College, including weekly testing for all students, consistent messaging about remaining in one’s pod, a restriction on any non-essential travel, and more. Rising cases in the state by November also caused Governor Gina Raimondo to make several announcements, restricting group gatherings to 10 and setting curfews.
Following winter break, students began to return with point-of-origin tests the week of Jan. 18. With classes resuming on Jan. 25, weekly COVID tests also resumed. Not long into the spring semester, though, a smaller COVID outbreak occurred. Students both on and off campus were sent to the Providence Marriott Downtown and Davis Hall to quarantine and isolate. The Continuity Task Force announced that PC had an approximately 2% positivity rate, leading to further restrictions from the President’s Office.
This second outbreak led to the decision to have students tested twice a week. For the remainder of the semester, students were asked to go for testing either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving Fridays for faculty and staff testing.
As cases began to decline, more and more restrictions and precautions began to ease. McPhail’s reopened on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for seniors. Attendance of outdoor games began to be permitted. Acceptable outdoor group gatherings increased to 50 people. Club sports were able to resume. An in-person commencement with two guests per graduate was approved to be held on May 20 on Hendricken Field.
Vaccines were also made eligible to all Rhode Island residents 16-years-old or over. Friars off campus began getting vaccinated towards the end of March, and the College held a vaccination clinic for all students, faculty, and staff on April 28.
Fr. Sicard reflected on the year by saying, “I think that one of the best decisions that we made was to reopen in person.” He continued, “During the first year of my presidency, I have been deeply moved by the commitment I have seen from our faculty, staff, and students. So many went above and beyond in caring for each other, in helping our students succeed, and in keeping each other safe and well.”
Ann Manchester-Molak, executive vice president, commented as well, saying, “In the 40+ years that I’ve worked here, I honestly can say that I have never experienced such a spirit of collegiality, involving so many faculty, staff, and students who joined together to somehow maneuver the highs and lows of a pandemic that has affected us all so acutely.” She commended the work of faculty, staff, and students who each did their part to persevere this academic year.
While masks are still required on campus, social distancing is still enforced, and students are still getting tested twice per week, there has been a significant change in COVID protocols since the fall semester began in August. Both Fr. Sicard and Manchester-Molak noted their excitement at the opportunity to have an in-person commencement for the class of 2021 to conclude the year.
The PC community has faced many trials and tribulations in dealing with COVID-19, but actions being taken and certain restrictions being eased show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a promising future for the next academic year. As Manchester-Molak stated, “Someday we will be able to look back at this year and realize that the goodness of ordinary people—doing extraordinary things—was all around us.”
Road to Recovery Hits Speed Bump: COVID Concerns Rise as PC Experiences Spike
by Eileen Cooney ’23
A dip in the number of reported coronavirus cases across the country in recent days has compelled some states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, to ease up some restrictions. Rhode Island recently lifted its curfew for restaurants and bars, and Massachusetts announced a plan to allow restaurants and other indoor businesses to operate at higher capacity.
Additionally, Rhode Island has announced the closure of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center testing site and its transformation into a state-run vaccination site. This is part of the state’s efforts to ramp up vaccinations and to move the process along so that a majority of its population can get vaccinated.
On campus, however, the number of reported COVID-19 cases among Providence College students has remained high over the past few days. As of Feb. 3, there are 89 students in isolation and 121 students in quarantine. As of Feb. 9, PC’s positivity rate is 2.27 which is slightly below the Rhode Island state positivity rate of 2.7%. While the number of students testing positive looks higher this semester compared to last, an email from the College’s continuity task force sent out last Wednesday stressed the need to take this data seriously.
This semester, students are being tested much more frequently, and we are in an environment where the virus is much more widespread in the surrounding community.
Additionally, a number of the positive cases reported each day are from students who are already in quarantine as close contacts. Clearly, this subset of individuals is a group that has a higher probability of testing positive due to their status as close contacts, and most of these individuals had already been removed from the population by the time of their test.
Despite this relatively positive news, the College is still warning students to remain vigilant. The Office of Public Safety and Community Standards sent out an email on Feb. 6 warning students that they were aware of the reported behavior in violation of the student code of conduct that seems to be exacerbating the spread of the virus. Public Safety again warned students of the consequences of their actions. Public Safety’s concerns are certainly not unfounded—on February 8 and 9, PC reported 34 and 33 new cases, respectively.
The College also announced its plan to test students twice weekly instead of just once. The effects of this plan remain to be seen in the coming weeks.
Despite this, PC students remain resilient and determined to make the most of this rather strange semester. This winter, the College’s Office of Student Activities invested in fire pits to be placed on Slavin lawn. The fire pits seat up to six people and can be reserved for one-hour time blocks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 4 p.m.–midnight. Students can reserve them with their pods to safely and warmly enjoy a nice meal or banter session with friends.
On Friday and Saturday nights, students can be seen gathered around the fires with masks on, grateful for the opportunity to be on this beautiful campus. Additionally, the Office of Student Activities has reserved food trucks for every weekend this semester. Last weekend featured Ming’s Asian Street Food truck. These have been a major hit among students.
Gracie Cleaver ’23 says, “I love the new food truck Fridays. They are a great and safe way to get out of your dorm and enjoy some good food with friends. I’m really happy and appreciative that the College has invested so much time, money, and thought into resources for students during this very difficult time.” Although this semester has seen an unprecedented number of changes to daily life for students, the College’s commitment to its students’ well-being remains strong. The College is working hard and will need the support of the student body to avoid the same kind of outbreak that put a pause on the fall semester.
PC Makes Comeback after COVID Outbreak
by Sydney Olinger ’23
Over the past two weeks, Providence College students, faculty, and staff have faced tremendous change and uncertainty due to the current global pandemic. After the severe COVID-19 outbreak that took place at PC, impacting students living both on and off campus, faculty at PC and the Rhode Island Department of Health took extreme measures to ensure the outbreak did not spread any further in attempts to keep our school community and the surrounding community safe.
Though students may have felt frustrated, upset, or even anxious about the lockdown that affected students living on and off campus, faculty at PC have worked diligently in taking all safety precautions in order to keep our campus open and offer some sense of normalcy during these times.
Prior to the two-week lockdown, all classes were fully virtual, fully in-person, or a hybrid of the two. For the past two weeks and part of this week during the transitional period to return to in-person classes, students must attend all of their classes virtually.
Due to this change, many students residing in dorms and apartments on campus made the decision to go home after receiving a negative COVID-19 test. Although students were hopeful that this lockdown would only be temporary, there was no guarantee that the campus would reopen. These students took a chance given that they might not have been allowed to reenter campus, but thankfully, as of this weekend’s Continuity email, the school will slowly begin reopening.
“The week of Oct. 5 should be considered one of transition. There are numerous reasons that the return must necessarily be gradual, and we ask for patience as we work together through the next few days,” explained the members of the Providence College Continuity Task Force.
One of the newer COVID-19 guidelines the College has been encouraging is for students to stay in a “pod.” This essentially means the only people you should be around when you are not wearing a mask are your roommates or suitemates. For people living in off-campus housing, their “pods” are only the people living on their floor.
“Mingling with others—the most significant cause of our outbreak—remains prohibited. Think about the people in your immediate living environments like you would your family—meaning if you live in residence halls, it’s the people in your room, not all of the people in your hall,” stated the members of the Providence College Continuity Task Force.
The guidelines and rules for students returning to campus from home resemble those we followed when first moving on campus. The school requires students to present a negative point-of-origin test and to take a test at Peterson Recreation Center when they arrive on campus. Following arrival, students must quarantine in their residence hall until they receive a negative test from the College, which then allows them to go to Raymond Dining Hall and buildings that are presently open.
As of two weeks ago when the lockdown began, all buildings except for Slavin, Raymond Dining Hall, and residence halls were closed. These guidelines had to be put in place even though they very much restricted the freedom of students living on campus. These rules remain in place during this week of transitioning back to the new normal.
Although it is certainly a difficult time for students everywhere—with not being able to hang out with old friends, meet new friends, and even become acquainted with our professors—there are countless ways to accomplish all of these things virtually. It is undeniably challenging and very different from the way we lived less than a year ago, but making adjustments during this time is imperative.