In an effort to bridge the gap between students and Gonzaga administration, vice provost of student affairs, Kent Porterfield and dean of student engagement, Matt Lamsma hosted an “Ask Me Anything” webinar today at noon.

In partnership with the Gonzaga Student Body Association, the panel of administrators also included director of residence life, Jon Wheeler, GU’s COVID-19 coordinator, Taylor Jordan and director of health and counseling services, Kristiana Holmes.

Panelists responded to questions about GU’s COVID-19 response regarding issues such as isolation and quarantine protocols and surveillance testing.

Jordan, who leads the COVID-19 Action Response Team (CART), said students who enter quarantine or isolation maintain communication with GU contact tracers and dining services as well as receive check-ins from the Center for Cura Personalis.

Roncalli House is GU’s primary on-campus isolation space for students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and must isolate for 10 days following their positive test result. Cushing Hall and Chardin House are reserved for students in quarantine who have come in close contact with positive COVID-19 cases and must continue to be monitored for 14 days in the event their exposure leads to a positive case.

“Isolation is a little more lenient as far as what you can and cannot do,” Jordan said. “I kind of equate it to a chicken pox party where at that point if you’ve got it, you’ve got it so students in isolation can actually hang out with one another, you might have a roommate and there’s a little more leniency with the social components of isolation.”

According to Wheeler, while their preference is to house students in GU owned buildings, students are also quarantining at the Ruby River hotel near campus.

Students are also able to engage in activities to alleviate the loneliness associated with isolation and quarantine. These activities include designated “outdoor time” and virtual quarantine retreats hosted by Mission and Ministry where students can connect with each other over their shared experiences in quarantine and isolation.

Weekly surveillance testing is also being conducted to detect asymptomatic cases in the community by randomly selecting 10% of GU’s off-campus population and 10% of the population from each on-campus dorm or suite.

Administrators also shed some light on the recent decision to cancel spring break and extend winter break.

The decision was made on Oct. 8 and students were notified via email on Oct. 9.

According to Porterfield, the conversation surrounding the decision to cancel spring break began in September with GU’s policy planning committee of the academic counsel, comprised primarily of academic leadership and faculty members.

Porterfield says the new academic calendar was planned to allow a long weekend every three to four weeks as opposed to a traditional spring break.

“The guidelines around travel and the concern about moving about then coming back into your community raises the risk of the potential for spread of the virus,” Porterfield said. “There’s always been a concern by the CDC and others to limit travel so that we’re able to mitigate and to the best of our abilities prevent the spread of the virus.”

Porterfield said the same mentality of moving instruction online following Thanksgiving break was applied when determining the cancelation of spring break.

Administrators also had to take into account the 16-week instruction requirement needed to maintain accreditation as a university when planning for the spring semester.

Looking ahead toward the spring semester, Porterfield said campus operations will likely look “very similar” to the fall semester.

“I think all of us are hopeful there will be a greater degree of freedom at some point, but as of now, it’s really difficult to know when that will be,” Porterfield said.

Wheeler said there will be an expected influx of students returning to campus for the spring semester who were not here for the fall, resulting in “tighter” living spaces and more double occupancy rooms.

While realities of the spring semester are still largely up in the air, Porterfield and administrators remain hopeful for a greater sense of normalcy, including a more traditional commencement in May.

Devan Iyomasa is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @devaniyomasa. 

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