Faculty, staff and administrators at Juniata College are excited to welcome back students for the second semester Monday, Jan. 17; however, they are also doing their due diligence to make sure that everyone is safe — including students, faculty and staff — as the omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads through the county, state and country.
As a result of that, new policies have been put into place specifically for faculty and staff for the spring semester.
James Troha, Juniata College president, discussed those policies.
“We recently announced a vaccine requirement for all faculty and staff,” he said. “We already require that students be vaccinated and boosted, and the more we thought about it, we realized the right thing to do was to ask faculty and staff.”
This change was implemented last week, though Troha said the vaccine rate for students and staff at Juniata College is at 95%, so this requirement only impacts a small population of staff on campus.
Troha noted that exemptions can be made for religious or other reasons that will be reviewed, but if staff members can’t meet the requirements for an exemption, they will be charged a fee per month for testing.
Because of high vaccination rate for the entire campus community, they didn’t feel it was necessary in the fall to include staff in requirements.
Light of the omicron variant of COVID-19, which has proven to be a much more transmissible variant than its predecessor, the delta variant, Troha said it was important to keep everyone safe and extend those same requirements for staff as they were for students.
“We needed to be consistent across the board,” said Troha.
Just like the fall, however, all students who return to campus are required to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of returning to campus.
Roy Nagle, chair of the COVID operations team at Juniata College, said some of the measures they put in place in the fall will also be in place for the spring semester.
Masking will continue to be required in public common areas, like dining halls and classrooms, but they aren’t required in the residence halls.
Additionally, isolation and quarantine guidelines for students were changed to reflect the changes made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They will have a five-day isolation time, and on the sixth day, they will be tested again,” said Nagle. “Then, if their symptoms are abating, they will be required to wear a mask for five more days.”
Nagle earlier told The Daily News that toward the end of the first semester, there were more positive cases among those vaccinated; however, most of the positive cases up until that point had been among those who were unvaccinated.
Additionally, Nagle noted in December that transmission of COVID-19 cases among students were from off campus.
“Most of those transmission events occurred in areas with close contact and poorly ventilated places off campus,” he said. “There’s zero evidence of transmission in classrooms as well as all of our other facilities. We remain confident that our facilities are very safe.”
Troha and Nagle both acknowledged that with the omicron variant being more transmissible, there will be more positive case as the semester begins, but they are also asking faculty to be flexible with learning, offering a hi-flex option, or remote learning option for students, who have to isolate because of a positive COVID-19 case.
“All of the decisions we make is through the filter of the health and safety of not just the Juniata community, but the greater Huntingdon community,” said Troha.
With some reports noting that COVID-19 cases are starting to drop in the United Kingdom as well as other areas where it surged just before the U.S. saw its surge, he also sees a little bit of hope that this surge will end sooner than previous surges.
Additionally, as omicron appears to be less severe among those who are vaccinated, with doing what they can to protect the entire campus community, they will be spared from the worst outcomes of testing positive by requiring vaccines for the entire Juniata community.