More Student Takeaways from the Return Oversight Committee

A Drexel University class during the fall 2020 term. Photo by Ben Wong.
A Drexel University class during the fall 2020 term. Photo by Ben Wong.

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.

On March 10 and March 11, Drexel University held the last two meetings in its three-part series of virtual Q&A community conversations in which the University leaders guiding Drexel’s COVID-19 response answered questions submitted by the Drexel community.

During both of those recent hourlong sessions, members of the University’s Return Oversight Committee provide ongoing and updated information related to best practices based on the pandemic’s current trajectory.

Excerpts from the events which related to students have been consolidated and lightly edited in the transcript below. The first virtual Q&A community conversation, held Feb. 25, was recapped for students by DrexelNow with a lightly edited transcript you can read here.

For additional information, please refer to the Student FAQs page on the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website, and email with additional questions and concerns.

Vaccination and Testing

Click here to read more vaccination and testing information from first Q&A event.

On Drexel’s coronavirus positivity to date:

Vice Provost for Community Health Care Innovation and Director of the Return Oversight Committee Marla Gold, MD: In the world of public health, often we focus on positivity rate. We want that rate to ideally, according to the World Health Organization, be below 5%. Happily, right now it's below 5% for the entire city of Philadelphia, all in — this varies by neighborhood, but all in right now. So, again, we're in this magical window on the back side of another surge. And we hope it stays down.

In our campus, as you saw from a recent email blast about data, we've been averaging this term well under 2%, about 1.3%. … In the vast majority of groupings, of infection among people, has mainly been students but that's because students are the main ones who are here and they are in congregate living situations or with roommates. Most of these infections happen indoors in small gatherings, not big parties. We're not hearing about giant parties or events that we maybe heard about nine or 10 months ago in higher ed.

So it happens when someone new comes into the house who hasn't been there to visit, or it happens when folks get together to celebrate something. We have been asking our young students, our young people, at a time when they crave to be together, we are asking them to do very difficult things if they want to be here. And for the most part, they've been able to do this. This is a positive environment, not a punitive one. We give them information about cause and what to do.

We have a group that meets every morning from student life, mental health and residency looking at the dorms, as well as student health, looking at where disease is. With private health information, and we have that permission to see where students have been, if there are patterns, we can see if there's more than one infection in a class and we can see has anyone been exposed? There is no evidence to date at our institution, nor others, of any spread from student to instructor, from student to student in a classroom setting nor in a library or in a gym or in any campus non-residential indoor space. I want you to know that there's a system for your health and safety and we're watching and thankfully, we've had no serious infections here among our population and particularly among our students who we follow. That's been very important as well. So, we're managing the warm weather. And again, it's not punitive. It's positive to get people to be able to do all of these new changes in our behavior so we can move forward as a community.

On vaccination and the Drexel Health Checker app:

Marla Gold: There's no vaccine passport [to campus]. There's no requirement of vaccine to come [to campus]. There will be no shared knowledge about who was vaccinated and who is not by the University. None of that. We will be adding an area on the Health Checker app asking about vaccine status. We won't force you to tell us, but we're asking in order to give you the best health guidance should you need it. For example, if you're vaccinated and in contact tracing, it shows that you're someone who on campus has been exposed to someone with infection. You may not have to quarantine at all if we have the information.

So there are certain things that we may be asking for. But again, working with you. Having said that, I cannot stress enough as an infectious disease physician and expert in public health, how these vaccines that are coming out are some of the most effective we've ever seen for infectious disease in our lifetimes. They’re very good.

When you're vaccinated, for those who want vaccine and accept vaccine, you also register for a reporting system where someone checks in with you, really, that has to do with the vaccine. It's the Centers for Disease Control, frankly, checking in and saying, "How are you today." … They're tracking how you're doing with vaccine. So that's happening, but we want to know, too. While it's an EUA [Emergency Use Authorization] vaccine, we want to know how you're feeling when you come in, as we see you. Could this change? I hope it does. The more of us that get vaccinated, the more we achieve and move towards herd immunity together, the more we'll have more freedoms on campus and the less of this stuff we'll have to do.

On student phased qualification for the vaccine in Philadelphia:

Marla Gold: Full-time students are not Phase 1C, they are Phase 2. This includes students who live in dorms. They are currently considered Phase 2. We hope to have vaccine to offer our students no later than fall, perhaps over the summer. But the same will happen to them wherever they live over the summer. That is, vaccine should be available for healthy young adults over the summer, if not a little bit before. So we're optimistic.

On safety at Drexel’s testing site:

Marla Gold: Our testing site is absolutely safe. There will be days and times where it appears or where you experience people who may feel close together, but they are not close together in terms of exposure.
There are always places, I want to stress this, where we are in a society where we go, where it's possible that someone who has a mask on has asymptomatic infection. Having said that, we've gone over our protocols and procedures multiple times. There have been no cases of infection acquired from the test site. That is, there's no apparent risk of transmission of disease within the test site. So, I'm not concerned about it. But I do want to share with you that we have looked at it multiple times and I understand your concern.

On the notification policy if a student who is enrolled in face-to-face classes tests positive:

Marla Gold: If a student test positive regardless, face-to-face or otherwise, what I'm going to say is the same. So, if a student tests positive, first we want to make sure they're OK, obviously. So a student comes and they're tested. Usually we have the results back the next day. It depends on their reason for testing. But either way, as soon as we get those results back, the student is isolated and they're counseled and isolation is done and then contact tracing is carried out right behind that. So, it's a multi-step process, and then we determine if those contacts were true contacts or not. So there's an infectious period. We look at all of that and we have experts that are doing all of this work all the time.

If a student is in a face-to-face class, contact tracing is being done in the background. If it's determined that in the class there may have been true exposures, that is when [contacts] would be alerted. We do not routinely alert a class or an instructor when there is a student with COVID who may have to be pulled out of that class and going into isolation if we deem that there have been no exposures.

… If we can't figure out exactly where the point of infection may have occurred, there's a question. In those rare cases, and they're unusual, we will do what's called proximate quarantine. On occasion this term, we have had to, two, maybe three times, quarantine a class out of an abundance of caution, not because that is a flat-out recommendation. We may let the health department know we're doing it and we may do it because we just can't put the entire exposure story all together in a satisfactory way.

In the few times that we’ve done this, follow up testing has not revealed any in-class transmission of infection. We have no evidence of transmission in a class — not between two students in a class and not from students to anyone who's an instructor or administrator in that class. So that gives us a good feeling about it.

Academics and Commencement

Click here to read academics and commencement information from first Q&A event.

On enrollment for face-to-face courses:

Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost Paul E. Jensen: I think what we'll find is, as we offer more classes face-to-face, we're going to see more students coming back and wanting more face-to face-classes. So, we'll see that enrollment grow. I think part of what we're seeing is just a chicken-and-egg problem. We don't have the class if students don't come. I think part of it is just beginning to build those schedules.

On plans for spring and summer term:

Paul Jensen: The first part of the question was about summer, and I think we're expecting summer to be a much more active quarter or term. So just for benchmarking — in winter and spring, we were at about 12–13% of our classes face-to-face or hybrid for our undergraduates and about 24–25% face-to-face or hybrid for our graduate students. There's a lot of variation across colleges. So those are just overall averages.

I think we've learned a tremendous amount since we resumed face-to-face back in August with some of our graduate programs. We've had great success and we've had no transmission in the class. I'll let Marla speak to that more. And so, I think our ability to do this is there and to do it safely. And clearly, as the vaccines begin to roll out, we will have even greater capability to do this safely.

For summer, I've asked the deans to target, at a minimum, 25% for undergraduates and higher, of course, is fine, and to maintain or increase our graduate levels. This will be important because it's possible that fall will see an even more significant ramp up. And so, I think doing this in stages is smart. We don't want to go from 12% to 100% in one quarter. So, we want to continue this steady ramp up.

…We just don't know yet. We all wish we had that crystal ball, but we don't have it.

Marla is keeping up with the city regulations, which will largely determine our maximum capacity in the fall. In terms of dorms, we moved about 1,000 students into the dorms in January. We are absolutely expecting students to stay over the summer. And we do believe that as we increase our offerings, we'll actually see more students moving in. So we're anticipating quite an active summer and I'll end with that.

On fall term and classroom capacity:

Marla Gold: The current recommendations are everyone has to be able to at least distance six feet… then one of the following, which for us, the majors are either less than or equal to 25% occupancy, or a cap to around 25 students. So we'll be working with instructors regularly. We hope that that widens up a little bit, but there'll still be a lot of space to hold classes.

On international students and travel as it relates to the pandemic:

Paul Jensen: We have international students on campus. I think the big concern we have is depending on where they're from, it's a question of whether they can get visas, et cetera, to get here. So that's really the issue. Some students are able to do it, and some it's still a challenge. We definitely hope that those measures will change as we look ahead to the fall.

Campus and Student Life

Click here to read more campus and student life information from first Q&A event.

On mask requirements on campus, and how this differs indoors and outdoors:

Marla Gold: Face coverings or masks are required in all Drexel buildings. In fact, they're required in all buildings in the city of Philadelphia in public spaces. So, we expect them to be worn in buildings and people have been doing very well with that. We monitor and so on. So that's been going well.

… We've been having meetings to talk about our policy about masks outside While we want people to be masked all the times, we have to go where we know infection is. So, if people can achieve distance, then we are not going to run after everyone that we see who doesn't have a mask on that's outside. We have numerous people who come through the campus, on Market or on Chestnut. I have to say that the vast majority of people wear masks and they maintain distance. Sometimes you'll see somebody who has a mask off; they'll know to put it on when they get closer. We've spoken to our students. We message students all the time and we'll continue to do that. … I'm proud that there will be a prevention campaign run by students for students that's in development now, now that there'll be a lot more activity on campus and the weather is warmer. We have health ambassadors stationed on different beats throughout the campus and they are there to help with these behaviors that we expect to see. And they've been doing very, very well in alerting people.

If you see something, however, that is upsetting to you and you feel on our campus that that is unsafe, there is a way through a compliance link to report something that they've seen. Then we follow up as fast as we can on our end, and we also meet about these regularly to discuss how to tighten things and have it done better.

On campus dining on all three campuses:

Associate Vice President of Business Services Don Liberati: As far as our dining on campus, all of our campus dining locations have reopened. They've really been open and operating since the summer. These are the locations operated by Aramark.

We have focused heavily on grab-and-go and to-go options. So, I think you would see a lot more of that in the dining halls than you would have traditionally seen.

We do have limited indoor dining options in the two main dining halls at the Urban Eatery and Hans, at about 25%. It’s all de-densified and students are sitting apart, but it does allow them to be inside. For more information on hours and locations, please visit

We've added tents on University City Campus in three different locations for the winter term. Again, to sort of support people grabbing their food and having a place to eat once they're done with that. We’re now putting together our plans for spring. So we'll continue on with the dining locations. We'll continue on to have some tents on campus, but we'll move them around slightly; we have a little bit more options now that we don't have to necessarily worry about heating them.

As far as retail, the majority of our retail is open, all following the current city guidance. So we're happy to see that opening back up. Hours, may be a little more limited, but many of our retailers are doing offers for Drexel faculty, staff and students who are on campus. We do maintain a list of that on our website.

And then the final thing: we do have designated places to eat and drink on campus. That also is listed as an FAQ. I won't go through each location, but there are places designated at Queen Lane, in Center City and on the University City. For more information, please see the FAQs on the Drexel COVID website.

On ventilation in campus buildings, both those owned by the University and those that are rented:

Assistant Vice President of Environmental Health & Radiation Safety Jon Chase: [Drexel Environmental Health and Radiation Safety], the CDC and the Department of Health have all put forth recommendations regarding the benefits of opening windows and bringing in fresh air. It's about dilution ventilation, and it's about bringing in uncontaminated, non-contaminated, outdoor air to dilute any low-level contaminants that might be in a space. If windows are operable and they can be safely opened, it's great. It's not necessary, though, for all of your spaces. We're looking at a target of five to six air changes per hour for each of our spaces and/or air change equivalents using portable or HEPPA filtration.

So, any windows that are operable is added benefit if it doesn't create a safety issue, if it doesn't disrupt the operation due to additional noise, and if it doesn't disrupt temperature control to a great extent, then we highly recommend.

On leased spaces:

We worked with all of our landlord partners. In all cases, we didn’t have the ability to have our own engineers evaluate these spaces from a mechanical standpoint. We worked with the landlords and their in-house engineers to get data on their systems and on the spaces that we occupy. We worked very closely with them to make sure that the signage and the custodial services and the way the bathrooms are treated, elevators are treated, etc., is consistent with what we're doing for our own spaces

We have a high level of confidence in what they've done so far, and it seems like that is progressing well. The mechanical spaces, based on the information that we've received from them, also look like they're doing great. I'm talking about spaces like the University City Science Center, Three Parkway, the New College Building.

On campus parking:

Don Liberati: We are reinstating parking and getting things back together. We're working with [Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Megan Weyler] and her team to understand how many people will be back on campus and trying to manage capacity to make sure that there is available parking for everyone. So, we will continue to use our surface lots on University City Campus primarily for monthly parking. But we did, as part of our program, create flexibility. If you need any more information, you can certainly email, but we are offering discounted block parking for individuals who will only be on campus for a couple of days a week. And that will be through our garage.

You wouldn't want to get a monthly parking permit if you're only going to be here one day a week. We're offering blocks of parking. So if you buy a block of 10, the parking daily is only 11 dollars a day. And typically, our daily parking rate at our garage is, I think, $17. And there's blocks you can use them whenever you're here on campus. They don't expire or anything like that.

On campus buses and shuttles:

Jon Chase: Facilities is monitoring the occupancy on the busses, on the shuttles, on a regular basis. When there's been events that they know are going to have higher traffic loads, they've doubled up on the shuttles. They're going to continue to ramp up the capacity based on what the need is. So, is there a chance that in the first day or two that they may realize that they need to add busses? I'm sure there's always a possibility for a hiccup. But they are planning ahead and they are adjusting their program accordingly.