Task Force has cautious optimism

COVID-19 measures to look similar next semester, more testing planned

BY ERIN ALBRIGHT AND HUNTER ELLIS, staff writer and multimedia editor
Photo courtesy of xavier.edu Chair of the COVID-19
Task Force Jeff Coleman acclaims the Xavier community for its commitment to mask-wearing but approaches the coming semesters with caution. The university is developing a plan to increase testing next semester, but it will not make any major academic alterations.

The following article was originally featured on the Nov. 9 episode of Xavier Newswire Live, our weekly radio show. Xavier Newswire Live airs each Monday at 7 p.m. on XUFM’s Mixlr channel. 

Xavier’s COVID-19 Task Force worked diligently to make this semester possible,  though the resulting adjustments to campus life and learning have had financial, social and academic repercussions. 

Jeff Coleman, Vice President of Risk Management and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force, detailed these ramifications and how the university is preparing for the next two semesters.

“I feel like we’re in a very good spot, and I think it is just a reflection of the fact that we put together what we thought was a really strong game plan, and then the students have just taken it and run with it,” Coleman said. 

“I was out on campus today walking around a bit after lunch and I didn’t see one student without a mask on, even outside. It points to how much the students want to be on campus and stay on campus,” he continued.

Xavier made a large investment into new equipment to serve the community to the adapting learning style. Hundreds of sanitizing stations, PPE equipment and  hybrid-learning technology has cost the university over $2 million. 

This technology is said to Over the past nine months, the university has also taken a financial hit from a lack of athletics and events at Cintas Center, as well as with the Mobile Order app. 

In addition to the effort students and faculty are putting in to remain on campus, the COVID-19 Task Force is monitoring the data they have collected and updating their approach to testing for next semester. 

Currently, 5-6% of the student population is being tested weekly, about 200-300 students. 

The team has observed where the most cases are coming from, and it aims at identifying the highest risk category amongst the student population.

The risk assessment model  in development will pinpoint how the university should expand its testing. The plan for next semester to test more students each week, specifically in the groups with the highest risk, is in line with Governor DeWine’s request to consistently test asymptomatic students. 

“We felt like we could strengthen up our risk assessment process and even do some further testing,” Coleman said. “So that’s really on our radar to finetune that over the semester break.”

Since the beginning of the semester, Xavier has only seen one large spike in cases; the school had over 40 cases and had over 400 students in quarantine in early October. The university’s cases have since gone down, despite the worsening COVID-19 conditions in the surrounding region.

“We were concerned because of what was happening with the county around us,” Coleman said. “We were seeing the surge around us, but we never experienced it on campus.”

Looking ahead to next semester, no major changes are being made to learning methods and COVID-19 rules.

“Our focus will still be on in person classes when possible, but we will still provide that hybrid option because we need social distancing in the classroom,” Coleman explained. 

Thus far, no cases have been linked to the classroom, which is a positive sign that the university’s efforts to maintain social distancing has been working. 

“Things could always change over the two months students are at home, but the task force is ready to adapt and pivot to what changes must be made to keep the Xavier community safe,” he said. 

The hope for fall 2021 is that it will be a much more traditional school experience, but that is dependent on a vaccine. 

“If we’re going to be planning for a traditional semester for fall 2021, we’re also going to have plans in place should we need to have a similar semester this fall and next spring,” Coleman said.

The Task Force plans on waiting for specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Governor Mike DeWine as to distribution to students and vaccine requirements. 

As the semester comes to a close, Coleman reminds the Xavier community that the work is not over. Despite having no major surge in cases, the same level of effort must be put in to slow and stop the spread of the virus. 

“I view the semester break as a halftime in a football game,” Coleman remarked. 

“We feel very good with how we performed the first half, like I said we feel like we had a very strong game plan and the students absolutely knocked it out of the park for us, but we can’t let our guard down,” he said.