COVID-19 Town Hall: Everything you need to know this semester

A lack of major policy changes for the spring semester leaves student attendees disappointed

Cleveland State University President Harlan Sands and Provost Laura Bloomberg present plans for the upcoming semester.

Cleveland State University President Harlan Sands and Provost Laura Bloomberg took to Facebook Live today to give updates on the university’s COVID-19 response and restrictions for the spring 2022 semester.

The town hall meeting was announced last Friday in an email, which confirmed that CSU would have a “near-full slate of on-campus classes and activities” when it reopens as scheduled on Jan. 18. This is in contrast to many universities’ decision to switch to remote learning temporarily as the omicron variant surges.

“Our goal remains and always will be to make sure we can have a full-service and safe campus experience this spring,” said Sands at the start of the presentation. “We feel your concern… When you do come up with things that make you feel a little uneasy, let us know. Let us know so we can address them,” Sands added later, while student concerns flooded the chat.

We don’t feel safe at school. We are letting you know.

Heather Anderson, Facebook Comment

Ultimately, the lively chat of students left feeling unheard, as only select questions were answered, with many hot topics being inadequately covered. Here’s everything we DO know following the hour-long livestream, alongside analysis and commentary.

Social Distancing

There will be no requirements for social distancing.

Instead of social distancing, the focus turned solely to mask enforcement. Students can expect classrooms at full capacity. “Masking is the best defense,” said Sands, referencing data from this past fall semester.

Masking

CSU will provide KN95 and surgical masks, but not require them. Cloth masks are still in compliance with the continued mask mandate.

This is despite acknowledging emerging data on the use of cloth masks being less effective against recent variants. The masks will be available through student ambassadors, as well as in student support offices, the student center, and deans’ offices.

Enhanced enforcement involving the requirement for the mask to “cover both nose and mouth” raises questions on the previously enforced policy. Regardless, the burden was placed on students to engage in community enforcement. This was further reiterated by Dr. Bloomberg’s response to a question on the consequences of failure to comply with the mandate.

“We are going to get through this as a community that cares for each other, that supports each other, that reminds each other,” she said, failing to specify any disciplinary process or consequence.

“We’re not really interested in being mask police,” added Sands. “I think we are on the leading edge when it comes to masking and our compliance rates,” he later stated.

It is only a mandate if there are actually consequences for not following it.

Autumn Hyde, Facebook Comment

Commenters also pointed out President Sands’ own inconsistent track record of mask wearing.

Testing

There are no updates on increased testing frequency or capacity.

When asking about the future plans for testing students for COVID-19, a commentor suggested weekly tests as opposed to the current random testing strategy, the adequacy of which has been questioned by some.

“There’s going to be testing for those who are symptomatic and want to be tested” Sands stated, creating doubt that even the random testing would continue.

Students returning to campus will not need to take a test. “At this point, to do mandatory testing for everyone that comes back to campus A) is not feasible from a resource standpoint, and B) I’m not sure it accomplishes the collective goal that we have. The tests are just not that accurate,” said Sands.

Regarding reporting positive cases, the COVID-19 Dashboard does not currently show historic data, only present data, obscuring trends. Questions about this were not answered.

Testing will be available at the Health and Wellness Center, located in the Center for Innovation in Medical Professions (IM), across from the Student Center. During the semester, they will be available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Students with a positive test should notify the CARE team at 216-687-2048. Faculty and staff should notify their supervisor and HR at 216-687-3636. Additionally, staff will not have to use a sick day or other paid time off to cover days off related to COVID-19.

Vaccines

There is no change to university requirements regarding vaccinations, which will not be required for students, faculty, and staff.

The livestream began with striking facts about COVID-19 and vaccination: unvaccinated people are 20 times more likely to die, 17 times for likely to be hospitalized, and 10 times likelier to be infected. Despite this, the vaccine will not be mandated.

The claim was made that 79% of students who responded to a study are vaccinated. Details on this study, while requested by attendees, were not provided, and questions remain on the study’s sample, timing, and requirement of proof.

Update 1/13/22: A follow up email from CSU stated that the study took place in mid-November with a random, stratified sample.

On the reasoning against a vaccine mandate, Bloomberg discussed the precedent seen elsewhere.

“In universities and higher ed institutions where there are mandates there are most often exemptions for religious reasons, medical reasons, and often times personal reasons.” Bloomberg, defending the decision to opt for an “education campaign” instead of a vaccine mandate that a “Mack truck” could drive through.

“I think we’re at the point in this pandemic where the folks who have wanted a vaccine have gotten a vaccine, the folks that have not yet got a vaccine are going to be very difficult to convince at this point,” said Sands.

“We are not going to prevent the spread of this disease at Cleveland State by going to a forced policy, where even folks that are vaccinated can get and spread the disease,” he continued.

This does little to emphasize the previously stated benefits of a vaccination beyond preventing disease spread, including preventing death and hospitalization.

Remote Learning

Remote learning options will not be university wide, and will be accommodated on a case by case basis.

One of the least discussed (but most questioned) areas was remote learning options. Students were redirected to the Office of Disability services, where students can apply for accommodations.

“We have worked on a case by case basis with those that have particular challenges who meet some of our requirements for being disabled,” said Sands.

Quarantine Accommodations

Quarantine accommodation options will not be university wide, and CDC guidelines will be followed regarding quarantine length.

Students worried about the consequences of missing class will see different styles of accommodation. “Students who have tested positive and need to quarantine will be accommodated. I am reluctant to talk about the specific accommodations for specific classrooms,” said Bloomberg.

This is due to the differing needs of lectures, labs, studio courses, and more. Example accommodations included recording classes and providing readings, but all will give an opportunity for “achieving the core learning objectives.”

Responding to questions about quarantine periods, Sands and Bloomberg stated the university will be following the CDC’s 5 day quarantine protocol for asymptomatic and exposed individuals, despite student concerns about the tightened timeline.

As for grading, Pass/Fail will not be making a return, and CSU will “return to some of our pre-COVID practices around grading,” according to Bloomberg.

Mental Health

No new mental health resources will be available for students. Faculty and staff will have one mental health day, with many caveats.

Existing mental health resources were reiterated, including the counseling center and TESS, a mental health chatbot that guides you through coping strategies (to try it yourself, text “Hi” to 415-360-0023 and use code “vikescare.” Then let us know how this goes).

Faculty and staff will have one “Mental Health Day.” On the day of their choosing, “provided that your supervisor is on board and it’s not a day when either classes are scheduled or we have particular services needing to be delivered,” employees can have one day off.

Campus Update

In a tangent, some time was spent on non-COVID-19 related information, including an update on CSU 2.0. New faculty and deans (including a new engineering dean), the campus master planning process, the college realignment, and new dining options were all mentioned.

CSU Global, a new international student recruitment initiative, brought 400 students to campus, highlighted on a slide showing a full auditorium and maskless students.

Finally, President Sands promoted this evening’s men’s basketball game, a move criticized by attendees for its potential to spread COVID-19.

Really out here promoting an in-person super spreader event huh

Dana Tonkinson, Facebook comment

Conclusions

In their conclusion, Bloomberg spotlighted one comment, expressing positively among the demands for answers.

This has been helpful. Thank you for your time. I am looking forward to another great semester on campus.

Robin L’Man, Facebook comment

“I just want to point out that a huge number of our students have said to us ‘we’re so glad to be back,'” said Bloomberg. However, her connectedness to the student population was put into question by the final point addressed.

When asked to consider including student leaders in conversations, Sands and Bloomberg responded that they already were. Sands cited the Student Government Association and Board of Trustees student representatives as already involved in these discussions.

Immediately, uproar from student leaders and student employees, especially those from the Department of Residence Life (who are seemingly not allowed to enforce the mask mandate, according to commenters), took over the chat, making it clear that students do not feel heard.

In conclusion, more weight could be given to the concerns expressed by students, who are the ones attending classes and living the campus experience. The insight provided by students highlighted in this article and during the livestream shows the disconnect between administration and students.

Listen to student voices. Especially Duncan’s:

Anyone else think Harlan Sands is a great name for a Southern Sheriff?

Duncan Virostko, Facebook comment

Watch the full livestream here.

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