Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.
With the recent announcement of Drexel University’s expanded campus reopening planned for the winter term, as well as circumstances surrounding upcoming holiday celebrations and travel, students may have a lot on their minds right now.
Will winter term be pass/no pass like the previous three terms? What are the University’s plans for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing? If I’m returning to Philadelphia after the holidays in other states or abroad, will I have to quarantine upon my arrival?
These are all questions that came up at a Graduate Student Town Hall hosted by the Graduate College on Nov. 5, but many of the questions raised were not just applicable to graduate level students. So, DrexelNow has relayed 10 burning questions that came up during that Town Hall below, along with answers from University administrators and experts.
1. Why will winter term be condensed to nine weeks?
Senior Vice Provost of Graduate Education Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD: The Provost’s Office, working with the academic units and deans, is trying to ensure a very smooth reentry to the academic programs. And so, because some programs will be on campus to accommodate labs, studios and design courses, the Provost’s Office decided that in order to have a buffer for individuals that might be coming to campus that might need to isolate or quarantine, that it makes sense for courses in totality, irrespective of modality, to begin a week later.
Director of Inter-College Advising Michelle Spina: I would suggest that if you are seeing this as something that's going to be a challenge, reach out to your faculty members to let them know about your feelings on this so that they can perhaps provide some additional resources. Reach out to your TAs for the class. Look at the other learning resource centers that we have available at Drexel to see what kind of supports are available. … If you're facing extreme academic difficulties in which you feel like you might not be successful in your courses, reach out to your academic advisers to see what kind of modifications you could possibly make that would help you get to graduation while still ensuring the best experience possible.
2. Why is it safe to bring students back to campus now?
Vice Provost for Community Health Care Innovation and Director of the Return Oversight Committee Marla Gold, MD: The decision to allow students to come back in winter — that is, to open the dorms and housing and to allow for a larger population [of undergraduates on campus] — is based on our ability to prevent and contain COVID-19 infections. So specifically, first, in the last week, we've been fully approved again by the Philadelphia Health Department. They give our guidelines for what an institution of higher education in the city of Philadelphia has to meet in order to open. There's a long list of public health measures, risk reduction or what we call mitigation measures and capacity that we have to state. Having said that, as you may have seen in the written communication from [Drexel President John Fry], we can only be as successful as the people who come here are able to follow the guidelines. It's critical. Whether undergraduate or graduate, no matter what academic program folks are in and what they're doing, that's been the key.
… Our goal at Drexel is to have routine testing coupled with signage, rules about face mask wearing, use of the Drexel Health Tracker, reminders about frequent handwashing, social distancing markers, and a list of that plus strong enforcement of these things among our students and our employees as we can, and to see that we can get that system working. I'll finish by saying that other institutions of higher education that do what our plan is to do here have had some success in keeping infection rates extremely lower among their student populations than the general population.
So, it's not over till it's over. Our plans now are for opening. The Health Department agrees with us. [But] this can change as winter gets closer to us and we see what viral behavior is.
3. Are there any plans to have regular COVID testing for all people on campus?
Marla Gold: The answer is yes. Right now, the test that we will be employing at Drexel is nasal PCR test or nasal swab test, [which has] very high specificity and sensitivity. As far as how often we'll be doing that, those decisions are being made. It has to do with ensuring that we look at risk. We’re really getting at what the transmission risks are in various populations using known data that's out there, such as use of face masks, combined with density of where you are, where you live and where you'll be traveling on campus, and the specificity and sensitivity of our test, which is very strong.
So we believe, at a minimum, that undergraduate students who live in our housing will be tested once a week. It could be more frequent than that. We don't have a statement yet for graduate students because, again, we need to look first and foremost at risk. We should be able to have a statement about that within the next two weeks.
4. Is there a possibility of using or scheduling a conference room or classroom to meet up with classmates for class each week [if the course is being offered remotely]?
Danuta A. Nitecki, dean of Drexel University Libraries: During this fall term, two of the Drexel Libraries’ on-campus locations are open for individual studying only. We continue to offer extensive remote resources and services, including access to online journals and ebooks and virtual consultations with our subject experts.
We are in the process of finalizing our services for the winter term, and we plan to experiment with designing innovative spaces in the Libraries for self-directed, group learning activities. Visit the Libraries’ COVID-19 Response page for more details and the latest news and information about our on-campus and remote resources and services.
5. Can international students leave the States and go home during winter break? Will I need to quarantine upon arrival back to the U.S.? How long would that quarantine be? If I take a COVID test and it comes out negative, do I still need to quarantine?
Marla Gold: Next week, a communication to the campus community will be coming out with some helpful guidelines and suggestions about how to handle Thanksgiving in the States. And those guidelines will be very similar to those who will be departing closer to winter.
If you have no reason to come back after Thanksgiving, then you should not. If you are fully remote and wrapping up and done with your classes and you are going to travel for Thanksgiving, I strongly advise that you do not come back until the start of the winter semester or quarter, depending on what program you're in. And that we will be communicating.
To the international student who's asking the question about quarantine and travel, the answer is yes, most likely. … [That’s another reason for the nine-week term,] we had in the States to back up into the fact that we needed some quiet time before allowing people to move freely on campus. We're starting a little later to allow that quiet time to occur and for people to be able to quarantine where they are.
So, I regret that it's complicated, but these dates are also built in for your safety and for your travel. I would also refer you, please, to the Response to Coronavirus website. Use it. Come back frequently. There'll be a travel section. There is an FAQ and there will also be specifics about quarantine, isolation and more information about the holidays.
Executive Director of International Students & Scholars Services Mladenka Tomasevic: Make sure that you're familiar with worldwide travel restrictions. If you're going through transit anywhere, there could be some complications. Make sure that you really do research in that area.
If you need to apply for a new visa stamp before you return, you also need to check whether the U.S. embassy in your home country is actually having any appointment for student visas. In any case, I do suggest that you check with us, send an email to email@example.com. We should review your documents to make sure that you have everything ready, everything is current, and also to provide you with a little bit more detailed information about where you can check about these worldwide travel restrictions.
6. When a positive case is identified, what is the contract tracing going to look like? Will this be done through each college, department? What is standardization going to be, and who will be responsible?
Marla Gold: If a student is found to be infected and they're asymptomatic or a student is symptomatic and found to be positive, all positive students are tested through our unit and contact tracing is done by Drexel at a central place under the banner of Student Health.
So, it is not done by academic unit. It is done by people who are trained, who have taken the Johns Hopkins course and are certified to do contact tracing. People who do contact tracing do not have the name of the individual, just the name of contacts to protect confidentiality. Everything is HIPAA certified and we want to make sure that we're following the way the trainings are laid out and our process has been explained fully vetted with the Health Department.
Up until recently, the Health Department also did contact tracing. If your local address is in Philadelphia, that case also is reported to Philadelphia and they contact trace as well, using the latest Centers for Disease Control guidelines with the definition of what a true contact is.
7. If an international student has registered for courses which are all online, does the student need to come to the United States or can they join from their home country?
Mladenka Tomasevic: Immigration wise, there are no concerns there. Students need to really just discuss their options with their academic departments. [This is] according to the current guidance, which we still don't know whether it will be extended for winter or modified. To maintain your status record, you would need to be enrolled in a full course load, which is 12 or more credits for undergraduate students, and nine or more credits for graduate students.
So just remember that. Other than that, according to the current guidance, you can attend everything remotely.
8. Will winter term be pass/no pass?
[A communication about the pass/no pass decision for winter term will be sent to all students from the Provost's Office later this week.]
Michelle Spina: I would like to add that if a student is considering pass/no pass, it might not be right for them and it might not be right for everyone.
When you're thinking about pass/ no pass, I would strongly ask you to go to the FAQ page for students for this. If you are on an employee reimbursement pay option for Drexel, you might need a letter grade. If you need to raise your GPA based on your academic standing or [Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)], if those are things that you are concerned about, you might need that letter grade and a pass or no pass.
Although they don't affect your GPA, they will not also raise that GPA if that's something that you need to do to stay in good standing with the University. If you are applying to another school after Drexel, if you have higher aspirations and you want to continue your education, you might need to get letter grades on your official transcript. So, these are all things to consider. So it might not be the right option for everyone, for every class.
9. Some universities have imposed penalties on students who have violated agreements, or health policies of the university. What is the conversation been at an administrative level surrounding this issue?
Senior Vice President for Student Success Subir Sahu, PhD: I can say this is one of the primary things that we have discussed at the senior level since the start of the pandemic.
The direct answer to that is our systems are set up much like other institutions, and we've been very clear in our communications to the student body writ large. As students are looking at the Dragon Pledge, failure to adhere to these policies and protocols, as is true with all of our policies and protocols, any students who doesn't follow our rules and regulations are subject to going through our code of conduct and our student conduct policy or structure, which means you would get charged with a particular sanction.
Depending on the situation here, that sanction could be a failure to comply or others. You are entitled as a student to go through due process in our student conduct process. And so, that being said, you would meet with a member of the Student Conduct team and go through our normal student conduct process. We have looked at sanctions up to and including separation from campus. Every one of the situations is unique, and so, depending on the circumstances, if it's a large party, if it's blatant disregard to the policies and protocols, more significant sanctions will be considered.
Now, having said all that, we want to create a campus community where we're all in this together. This is a global pandemic that we are all working towards creating the best atmosphere and the safest and healthiest atmosphere for all of us, faculty, staff and students. And I say as the chief Student Life officer at the institution, we need student support in this. We need students to come forward if they're seeing other students doing something they shouldn't do. We need students to adhere to policies when it relates to contact tracing. So if they're contacted, they're giving accurate and truthful information, and that dialogue needs to be a two-way street. We do not want to have or create an atmosphere where we are just heavy on the sanctions and throwing students out, left or right. At the end of the day, health and safety guides us, but I'm the true believer in that we can work on this together and that there are ways that we can modify this and that students can come talk to us if they see things, whether it's in the moment or kind of patterns of behavior. They can come talk to us so that we can put in systems and structures to help identify and solve the issues as they come up.
So the direct answer to that question is, yes, we have structures and policies in place. We are prepared to put students through our conduct process if needed, but we're hopeful that we can meet somewhere in the middle.
10. As an international student, what should I know if I plan to return to the U.S. for the winter term?
Mladenka Tomasevic: On the CDC website, I think it's really important to remember that the list of countries that is listed on their website hasn't changed in months. So, if are not a U.S. citizen or U.S. green card holder and you have been in any of these countries during the past 14 days, you will not be able to enter the United States. Please remember that. … If you spend even one day, and I believe that this applies to any transit through any airports, too, in any or any of these areas, you will not be able to return to the United States unless you spend 14 days somewhere else. So please remember that as you make your travel plans.