FAIRMONT — Fairmont State University begins its spring semester today, but the return of students and faculty to campus has been plotted out by the administration, to protect those coming back from COVID-19.
Matt Swain, chief of police at Fairmont State University, said the university has administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to about 90 people, and the school will be giving it to more campus staff as it becomes available.
"We are dealing with the state, as soon as they give us the vaccines, we are doing what we can to deliver those to faculty and staff," Swain said. "We're using the same criteria that the state provides of those who are over 65, have a high morbidity rate, as well as those who are in the front line workers of first responders and health care and getting them done first. Then, we continue to work down through that list."
The institution performed COVID tests on designated groups, namely staff members, first time freshmen, nursing students, students in education majors student teaching in the semester, graduate and resident assistants and select sophomores, juniors and seniors. Those students will attend their classes in-person, while the rest of the campus population, which is set to be tested this week, will attend classes virtually until next week when their test results should be in.
According to Swain, this phased-in return should ensure everyone gets tested before returning to campus.
"We are doing the phased return," Swain said. "We're trying to take care of the faculty and staff first, making sure they got their tests, bringing in the freshmen, the next group, then the third wave we'll bring in some off-campus folks, then we'll get the upperclassmen."
As per a mandate through the state, Fairmont State will also continue its surveillance testing this semester, and will administer COVID tests to 10 percent of the campus population each week. As of Jan. 8, Fairmont State 28 active cases on-campus, six active cases off-campus and 80 have recovered from COVID-19.
In order to keep the risk of transmission low on campus, Swain said the university has implemented other safeguards ranging from face shields for teachers to directional instruction to make sure people don't gather in large crowds.
"We have the Plexiglas shields in front of the desks and lecterns of our professors," Swain said. "We still have hand sanitizer stations around, we still have directional arrows and doors are marked with enter only and exit only to continue the social distancing. I think last semester we were able to get the flow of campus down pretty reasonable to make sure we didn't have any large gatherings, and the flow seemed to work out good."
In order to administer the vaccines in an organized manner, the school distributed surveys to staff and students to see who wants to receive the vaccine, and if they qualify to be a priority.
"We have done a few surveys and sent it out to folks asking them to fill it out to see if they were interested and if they could make the time frames, or if they are in those categories of over 65, high morbidity or a front line worker," Swain said.
Mirta Martin, president of Fairmont State University, received the first dose of the vaccine last week, and said in a press release she hopes its distribution to the people of Fairmont State to be the first signs of returning to an average school year.
"We'll hopefully have the entire campus community vaccinated soon and take another step towards returning to something resembling 'Normal,'" Martin said.
Swain said despite all of the challenges COVID has presented, he believes last semester went well for Fairmont State, and most members of the campus community complied with the safety guidelines put in place to stop the spread of the virus.
"I think it went well," Swain said. "I think we were successful and able to continue operations, which is our main focus. It's to keep our operations running with everybody being as safe as possible."
Martin, too, said that although the coronavirus pandemic caused stress to students and faculty last spring semester and the fall semester, the university has been able to adapt due to cooperation from the campus community.
"From the very start, this historic pandemic disrupted the way higher education operates," Martin said. "But disruption doesn't have to mean derailment. Our goal has always been to safely and securely continue to provide Fairmont State's trademark affordable, transformative education and keep our kids on track to graduate on time."