‘It’s going to be bumpy’: Lafayette begins a hybrid semester on campus during the pandemic

Lucie Lagodich

After a full semester of virtual classes, Lafayette has brought over 2000 students back to campus for hybrid learning, but many are expecting a difficult semester and foresee future outbreaks and issues in mitigating COVID-19 on campus.

“I think COVID has dealt us a hand that no one can really anticipate at any minute. I think we’re in about as good a place as we could expect to be, given what’s happening in the world,” Annette Diorio, Vice President for Campus Life, said. “I feel good about having students back, I think the things we put in place will be helpful, but it’s going to be bumpy. There’s no question that it’s not going to be a completely smooth spring semester.”

Lafayette required both pre-arrival testing and arrival testing when welcoming students from across the country and world back to campus, as well as weekly testing for all students throughout the semester.

“With all those layers of complexity, I think it went pretty well, so I was satisfied,” Jeffery Goldstein, Director of Health Services, said. “Were there bumps in the road? Were there challenges along the way? Definitely. But we as a team at Lafayette–students and staff–I think we all got together and did a pretty good job getting people settled in.”

On Feb. 7, President Alison Byerly sent a letter to the Lafayette community welcoming students back and restating the College’s COVID-19 safety protocols for the semester and what students are expected to abide by if on campus. Lafayette announced the use of four different Campus Operational Levels based on the number of positive cases found on campus among staff and students each week. Students were also required to sign the Pard Pledge, in which they agree to wear face coverings, maintain physical distancing, comply with testing and follow travel restrictions or face disciplinary action.

“I am sorry to say that several students are now studying from home as a result of alleged violations of our campus safety protocols,” Byerly wrote in the letter. “In order for us to have a safe and successful semester, everybody needs to do their part. That means following all the necessary guidelines and asking those around you to do the same.”

Diorio explained that the students sent home over the past week were for violations of very specific quarantine protocol, or for gathering in large groups.

“When we were telling students that gathering sizes were zero if students were having gatherings that was problematic. This obviously isn’t new information for any of us. The CDC has been saying this since last March, the more groups you have, and the more you mix people between groups, the more likely you are to see COVID spread,” Diorio said. “We had students at various places and testing, we had a lot of different things that were playing into why we were trying to restrict student’s movements, either during the interim or last week.”

Violations of the Pard Pledge are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, according to Diorio. They have already received a handful of violation reports from students using the online form that was created last semester to allow members of the community to easily report concerning behavior.

“From what I can see, the students are taking it really seriously. There’s always going to be some outliers like there was last semester. I’m hoping that students take into consideration the risk of getting together socially and use every precaution,” Goldstein said. “I would ask the students to have 100 percent buy in to using behaviors which will mitigate outbreaks because it’s totally up to the behaviors of the community, not any testing strategy.”