By Alanah Woodward, Mary Mone, and Sorayda Rivera
From the beginning of the fall semester until Monday, Sept. 7, there have been 24 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Tyler Junior College campus, compared to nine cases during the first two weeks after case reporting began in the summer. There were 17 total cases reported from June 25 to the end of the summer term on Aug. 6. Between the end of the summer term and the beginning of the fall term on Aug. 24, there were five reported cases. These reports are public under the Jeanne Clery Act and are posted on tjc.edu/campuspolice/reports.
The Clery Reports state when a confirmed case is reported all individuals who came in contact with the infected person are informed and given next-step protocols.
Also, after a COVID-19 case is reported, the classrooms the individual attended are sanitized. Signs are posted outside the classroom doors saying when the room was electrostatically sprayed and when it can be occupied again. Students are also encouraged to check their email and contact their professor.
The increase of COVID-19 cases on campus in the fall semester may be due in part to an increase of in-person classes available on campus. According to data from Rebecca Sanders, director of public affairs and media relations, TJC offered 171 face-to-face classes during the summer, meaning less students were on campus.
Summer term classrooms were assigned as one course per room per day to accommodate physical distancing. Sanders adds, “safety precautions included face coverings, physical distancing or 50% capacity, hand sanitizer stations, classroom cleanings.”
For the fall semester, 884 face-to-face courses are offered, which means more students are on campus. The only campus facility currently unavailable to students is the Ornelas Health and Physical Education Center.
A mixture of in-person, hybrid and online classes were offered in the summer and are offered this fall. TJC student Eric Olivares shared his thoughts about coming back to face-to-face classes.
“I was a little worried, but also excited,” Olivares said. “Worried because not everyone is proactive about health and hygiene, which to me plays an important part in the prevention of any passable sickness.”
Making the decision to reopen campus for face-to-face classes during a worldwide pandemic was something schools across the country had to make. For campuses that reopened, like TJC, hours of strategic planning went into making campus safe for reopening.
Pamela Rathbun, from marketing implementation at TJC, said to prepare for TJC’s main campus to reopen, the TJC Fall Scheduling Committee “engaged in careful and comprehensive planning to prepare for the beginning of the new academic year.”
The committee was established by executive leadership consisting of academic leaders, the office of technology services, faculty senate and the registrar’s office.
“Their preparation was guided by two fundamental priorities: promoting the health and safety of the entire TJC campus community and ensuring an excellent academic experience for our students,” Rathbun said.
According to TJC’s fall 2020 plan, face coverings are required in the classroom, while 50% capacity or 6-feet physical distancing must be maintained at all times in classrooms and lab spaces. Rathbun explained these guidelines are in place with the exception of “2-3 labs where the students were already performing these learning outcomes in full PPE gear.” PPE stands for “personal protective equipment,” meaning masks, gloves and other gear used for protection against pathogens and hazardous materials.
TJC’s website also mentions attendance will be taken each time classes meet, and there are mandatory seating charts. This is used by TJC officials to implement contact tracing when a student or faculty member tests positive for COVID-19, preventing the need for an entire class to quarantine.
“The classrooms are given rules and guidelines, but for some classes, it’s only causing the classes to be less productive or educational,” Olivares said. “Hands-on classes are taking the biggest hit. I feel that until the situation gets better, everyone will have to adjust to the new normal.”
Hand hygiene, masks, adequate supplies and maintaining a healthy environment by cleaning and disinfecting are among some of the considerations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives institutions of higher education.
TJC has hand sanitizer stations available throughout campus. Also, the custodial staff performs enhanced cleaning in all buildings and instructional spaces every day and night to help mitigate the possible spread of any illness spread by bacteria/viruses.
“I have seen the cleaning staff do an amazing job – clearly more than normal,” Olivares said. “The classroom honestly doesn’t feel that much different besides the obvious mask on everyone.”
For detailed information about TJC’s protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, including frequently asked questions, visit tjc.edu/coronavirus