Testing Program Leads to a Safe and Healthy Fall Semester
When combined with widespread adherence to mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing, testing proved to be integral in the prevention of campus outbreaks of COVID-19 and ensuring the College was able to continue its mission of educating the whole person in a residential setting.
Unlike many colleges and universities, Stonehill remained open for a safe and healthy in-person educational experience during the fall semester.
And the key to that significant achievement?
Campus wide collaboration from students, faculty, and staff along with lots of hard work and an ability to pivot, according to Vice President and Legal Counsel Thomas Flynn.
“It came down to rolling up our collective sleeves and teamwork. Facing hurdles everywhere, we were undaunted and totally focused on how to stay open without compromising health and safety. There were issues, but we worked through them and did so with input and support from all corners of our community,” says Flynn who oversaw the creation and management of a dedicated testing center in Alumni Hall.
“Over 14 weeks, the testing center conducted more than 35,386 total valid unique tests and recorded 33 positive cases at Stonehill for a positivity rate of 0.10 percent for the semester. That’s significantly lower than that of the surrounding area which was 1.52 percent,” says Monique Avila, M.S.N., FNP-C, who co-directs the test center with Doreen Vovcsko, RN, B.S.N.
Protecting the Nest
“We had a detailed, focused plan that we adhered to. In addition, students, faculty, staff, and alumni really followed the health and safety guidelines. Given the limitations and challenges, it wasn’t easy, but we came together as a community to protect the nest,” says Vovcsko.
The College’s testing center, which began conducting on-boarding tests for students, faculty and staff in August, partnered with the Harvard- and MIT-affiliated Broad Institute. Every week, the Center conducted around 3,000 tests that were sent to the Broad’s clinical lab in Cambridge.
All community members who came to campus were required to test weekly. Those involved in high engagement activities such as chorus or team sports were tested twice a week. Results were typically returned within 24 hours.
“Thanks to the dedication and professionalism Health Services under the leadership of Maria Sullivan in partnership with Doreen and Monique’s team, we ended in a better position than we could have imagined this summer,” explains Flynn, who also notes that Athletics staff answered the call to help out at the testing center.
“While continuing coaching and recruiting, the Athletics staff also worked at the testing center to ensure students and staff could swiftly get through the test process. They know teamwork and it really made a difference,” he adds.
Selfless and Courageous
In his Thanksgiving remarks, President John Denning, C.S.C. noted that much was asked of everyone in the College community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends and his brothers in Holy Cross during the fall semester.
Yet, despite the many challenges, changes, additional responsibilities, and inconveniences of this semester, he hailed the community’s response as “selfless and courageous in so many ways. What you have accomplished for the College in recent months is remarkable and you have my appreciation and heartfelt thanks.”
With students taking their exams virtually this week, the fall semester on campus is now over, and the spring semester does not begin until late January. Legal Counsel Flynn sees opportunity in the break before students return to campus for the spring.
“We cannot afford to rest on our laurels if we want to ensure a safe and successful second semester. So, we are reviewing all areas of our fall operation to see where we can make improvements. We will also study what other schools are doing and learn from their experiences. Plus, we will stay in contact with agencies at the national, state and local levels for continued guidance,” he said.
"By keeping up-to-date with the latest safety recommendations, working to refine our processes on campus, and continuing to build buy-in from across the College community, we are taking the critical steps necessary to minimize risks to our community this spring," added Flynn.