Climbing case numbers force Young Harris to go virtual
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on school systems nationwide, there are not many public reports about the impact to college campuses. Meanwhile, more than 1,400 Young Harris College students were notified over Labor Day weekend that all classes will become virtual until at least Monday, Sept. 21. A Sept. 7 email sent to students by Provost Jason A. Pierce, Ph.D. explained: “The YHC campus began experiencing a substantial increase in the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 tests among residential students.
Between Monday, Aug. 17, when classes began, and Wednesday, Sept. 2, more than a dozen students were tested, but none were found positive via a molecular test, as required for confirmation under Georgia Department of Public Health procedures. Since then, more than three dozen residential students have tested positive and been placed in isolation, while those in close contact with them have been placed in quarantine.” When school started, some classes were virtual while others were in person with students required to wear masks in their classrooms.
No official announcement has been made citing how many YHC students and employees currently have COVID-19, are in isolation or are in quarantine. According to information on the college’s COVID-19 resource page, the college is tracking them daily. The numbers are shared weekly on YHC Connect and the information is available to those with a yhc. edu email address. Clay County resident Kyle Rhinehardt believes things are going well despite the difference. “I expected there to be confusion about the delivery method of the information. I also expected to be challenged as we adapt to a virtual environment,” he said. “Entering week five, I have observed professors doing their best to accommodate to students and to adjust delivery methods. Considering the set of unique challenges we are facing, the year has been productive.”
When asked if the changes impact his coursework, the YHC senior replied, “For most of my classes, key deliverables haven’t changed; the method in which we complete these tasks has changed. Group work is a critical part of building knowledge and over-communication is key. In some ways, coursework can be more efficient online and in other ways it’s better to do it in person.” All on-campus classes became completely online beginning Wednesday, Sept. 9.
The notice, which is also on Young Harris College’s COVID-19 resource page, continued, “To date, contact tracing suggests that all viral transmission on campus has occurred in residential facilities. There are currently no confirmed cases among college employees, Sodexo employees or commuter students, nor is there any indication of transmission in instructional facilities, dining facilities or athletic facilities. This suggests that de-densification efforts in these spaces, coupled with mandatory face coverings and enhanced hygiene protocols, have helped curb the potential for transmission.”
Meanwhile, another Clay County student, Sean Riley, was looking forward to his freshman year at Western Carolina University, especially since he was going to be part of the WCU Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. “Band is the one class I really look forward to,” Riley said. “I feel the band staff is handling things well despite all of the issues they have faced. Most of my other classes are online except band and one hybrid class that meets outside.”
He and his mother, Susan Gray, believe WCU and Chancellor Brown have educated students well during the COVID crisis and have instituted good precautions. “I really feel for Sean and all of the freshmen starting off their first year of college during the pandemic,” she said. “Most activities have been canceled including football, family weekend and homecoming, etc. I feel sad for these kids that they don’t get to fully experience all that college life has to offer.”
Since football and marching band have been canceled until at least spring, the band does regular outside practices in instrumental sections. Sean and other students spend a lot of time in their dorms doing their on-line classes. “Sean comes home most weekends. He is ahead in his classes and gets bored,” Gray added. “They also have a designated isolation dorm where students who test positive can quarantine without having to return home.” YHC has similar accommodations for students who test positive yet are unable to return home.
Prior to returning to classes, YHC students were given strict guidelines which are enforced by college administrators, faculty and staff members and the YHC Police Department. The resource page prepared by the Young Harris College Pandemic Recovery Team highlighted the guidelines. Only faculty, staff and students may be on campus and all campus visitors must have an appointment with the department being visited. During appointments, visitors must wear cloth face coverings and participate in screening, including temperature checks and health questionnaires.
Any visitor coming to campus without an appointment will be told to leave. In addition, all campus grounds and buildings, are closed to the public, including athletic facilities and practice fields. The walking trail at the back of campus is open to the public; however, the college may limit access and social distancing is enforced. Dining facilities, the library and laundry are open to YHC students.
Meals may also be taken outside to the lawns or decks, for those not comfortable eating inside. “YHC’s contact tracing indicates that COVID-19 transmission is not taking place in the classrooms or on-campus dining facilities, but is limited to a small number of residence hall rooms/suites where students are gathering indoors without face coverings,” the school site said. “Although transmission is not taking place in classrooms, YHC temporarily shifted to online delivery to allow instructors to teach all students the same way rather than having to shift between in-person and accommodating those out for isolation or quarantine. With the number of students required to isolate or quarantine, instructors of in-person sections have increasingly had to work individually with students who cannot attend class as scheduled.
This temporary shift to fully online delivery is intended to provide all instructors with the opportunity to focus on just one delivery mode, and to provide all students with comparable learning opportunities. The college community should expect to return to in-person instruction once this spike in student isolation and quarantine cases has subsided.” “All plans are informed by and comply with current best practice recommendations, Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive orders and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the YHC COVID information page said.
Inquiries may be made to: COVID-19info@ yhc.edu or the dedicated phone number (706) 379- 5383. “We ask for patience as we navigate the complex impacts that this situation is having on YHC’s operations. We are making informed, real-time decisions and keeping the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff top of mind.” “On behalf of President Van Horn and the other members of the Pandemic Recovery Task Force, thank you for your continued flexibility and grace during this unpredictable and unparalleled situation. Continue to monitor your health and adhere to all safety protocols. Isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.”