By Ed Brennen
Weekly visits to University Crossing for a quick nasal swab. Teletherapy counseling appointments on Skype. Socially distanced spin classes outside the Campus Recreation Center. Meditation practice on Instagram.
Welcome to a fall semester unlike any other, where the coronavirus pandemic has forced colleges and universities across the country to adapt how they educate and provide services to their students — whether they’re living in residence halls, in off-campus apartments or at home.
“We remain in the midst of one of the most widespread and challenging periods in history, but we will get through it,” says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, who has led university-wide efforts to partially reopen the campus this fall in accordance with state and federal guidelines.
Most River Hawks are learning remotely this semester and won’t be on campus. But there are around 800 students living in residence halls on East Campus in order to participate in labs and studio classes, such as art, that can’t be held online.
While the fall semester will be different in many ways, one thing remains constant: “The health and safety of our university community members are our top priorities,” Moloney says.
UML’s Emergency Operations Committee, which has been working throughout the ever-changing pandemic to ensure campus safety and continuity, provides ongoing updates on the university’s coronavirus webpage.
Here are some of the ways UML is focused on the well-being of all students, as well as faculty and staff, this fall:
For students living on campus, there was an added step to move-in this year: a visit to University Crossing’s Moloney Hall for their first COVID-19 test of the semester.
The early results were promising: Of the first 660 tests conducted during move-in, there were zero positive results. (One campus community member reported a positive diagnosis from an external testing site.)
“With increasing numbers of tests in the coming weeks that will expand to include faculty, staff and non-residential students, we are ready to act quickly on managing positive test results,” says Assoc. Dean of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness Paulette Renault-Caragianes, who expects the university will be doing about 1,200 tests per week.
All residential students, even if they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, are required to get tested once a week at Moloney Hall throughout the semester as part of UML’s free surveillance testing program. Some commuter students, as well as faculty and staff members who are on campus for teaching and research, will also be selected for surveillance testing.
By identifying and isolating any asymptomatic members of the university community through surveillance testing, the university hopes to head off the types of outbreaks that have already hit other college campuses.
“It is one more layer of risk mitigation on top of daily symptom self-checks, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and other safety efforts,” says Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen, who is leading UML’s testing efforts.
Students give themselves the minimally invasive test, which requires swirling a swab about an inch into each nostril, with the guidance of a licensed Health Services staff member or a trained student EMT from Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
Health Services Director Diana Walker-Moyer manages the ordering of student tests, while Emergency Preparedness and EMS Coordinator Kevin Conley oversees the testing site.
The swabs are sent each day to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., an MIT-Harvard collaborative that is providing COVID-19 testing to scores of schools across the region. Students should receive their result in 24 to 48 hours. If they are negative, they will be notified by email.
If a residential student tests positive, they will receive a phone call from a member of Health Services and be instructed to isolate — either at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center or at home. Isolation lasts for a minimum of 10 days and ends when a student no longer has symptoms or a fever and has been cleared by the Lowell Board of Health.
The Lowell Board of Health is also responsible for contact identification and tracing. If a student learns they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, they are required to quarantine in their residence hall room until 14 days after the exposure.
For commuter students, faculty and staff, more information on testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation can be found on the university’s coronavirus webpage.
Surveillance testing is offered from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students can select a recurring day and time for their test via a scheduling page created by the Information Technology office.
Wellness, Wherever You Are
According to a national survey conducted last spring by the nonprofit organization Active Minds, COVID-19 has negatively affected the mental health of 80 percent of college students. The most common effects were stress, anxiety, disappointment and loneliness.
“It’s a very unsettling time for students, so it’s understandable to feel a certain level of stress and discomfort around that,” Renault-Caragianes says.
Counseling Services is providing “telehealth” counseling sessions this semester to students by phone or video (via Skype for Business). Students can schedule an appointment with one of five full-time counselors by calling 978-934-6800 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Group sessions are also available.
If a student is in crisis and can’t wait for a telehealth appointment, a crisis counselor is available 24/7 by calling 855-890-2879.
Disability Services is also offering its services remotely this semester. Students with a documented disability who would like to register for academic accommodations are asked to do so online.
Health Services, meanwhile, is providing only limited in-person services, as clinically indicated and by appointment only. Otherwise, students may schedule a telehealth appointment with one of three nurse practitioners by emailing Health_Services@uml.edu.
Renault-Caragianes notes that one result of the pandemic (“a little lemonade,” she says) is that more people are open to doing telehealth appointments from the comfort of home.
“Just because you’re not seeing someone in person doesn’t mean we don’t have services that can help you,” she says.
Students who want to work out their stress can do so either in person or online. The Campus Recreation Center is now open to residential students, although reservations must be made online for 60-minute workout sessions. In-person group fitness classes, including Zumba, spin, yoga and kickboxing, will also be offered to residential students on the turf outside the Rec Center.
For those not living on campus, there are a variety of group fitness classes being offered virtually this semester. The Rec Center also posts workouts and exercise tips on its Facebook and Instagram channels.
Anyone who comes to campus should have a face covering, which must be worn indoors at all times and also outdoors if 6 feet of personal distance can’t be maintained.
While UML’s housekeeping team will continue to clean common areas, students, faculty and staff are being asked to do their part by wiping down surfaces and high-touch points before and after working in an area. Facilities Management has stocked classrooms and offices across campus with shared cleaning kits that include a bottle of disinfectant spray and paper towels.
For classroom cleaning kits, UML Housekeeping will refill spray bottles and restock paper towels daily as needed. For office suite cleaning kits, faculty and staff can refill spray bottles at their building’s designated self-service refilling station. Fifty-five-gallon drums with easy-to-use pump dispensers are located in the first-floor lobbies of 15 buildings across campus.
In addition to cleaning shuttles more frequently throughout the day, Transportation Services is disinfecting all vehicles at the end of each day using a fogger machine that sprays an Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant on all high-touch surfaces.
To ensure social distancing, a limited number of passengers are allowed on shuttles — and riders must wear face coverings. Service will also be limited, with a focus on getting students between East and South campuses.
Fraen Corporation, a custom high-precision manufacturing company in Reading, Mass., has donated 90 face shields to UML faculty and staff for the fall semester. During the early stages of the pandemic, Fraen pivoted its manufacturing to produce personal protective equipment, with UML researchers at the Fabric Discovery Center assisting during the prototyping stage.
And finally, students, faculty and staff should perform a COVID-19 symptom check before coming to campus each day. If a residential or commuter student is experiencing symptoms such as fever, muscle aches or fatigue, they should call the COVID line at 978-934-COV2 (2682) or email Student_SymptomReporting@uml.edu to discuss how to schedule a test.
Students who are learning remotely from home should contact their primary care provider if they experience symptoms.
“There’s a certain level of collective responsibility,” Renault-Caragianes says. “And that starts with each one of us wearing a face covering as directed on campus, maintaining social distancing, washing our hands often and not coming to campus when we’re sick. The culture of toughing it out and being on campus when we’re sick is a thing of the past now.”
Tom Miliano, executive director of Administrative Services, praised the collaborative, campus-wide response to the pandemic, starting with Life Safety and Emergency Management and Residence Life.
“They’ve done fabulous work implementing these new policies and protocols,” he says. “They’ve worked with public health officials to make sure that everything we do is according to guidelines and keeping everyone as safe as possible.”