In-person classes start next week at Thomas Aquinas College

  • A classroom with a round table set up for discussions in Palmer Hall at Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield, as seen prior to students’ arrival last year. With 102 students returning to campus this weekend, Assistant Dean Patrick Gardner said being a small, fairly self-contained institution will help with taking COVID-19 precautions and increase the potential for contact tracing, should someone contract the virus. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students at Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield will be moving in this weekend. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students at Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield will be moving in this weekend. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The entrance to Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Administration building at Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/21/2020 3:24:01 PM
Modified: 8/21/2020 3:23:48 PM

NORTHFIELD — With students returning to Thomas Aquinas College’s Northfield campus this weekend, Assistant Dean Patrick Gardner said being a small, fairly self-contained institution will help with taking COVID-19 precautions and increase the potential for contact tracing, should someone contract the virus.

In-person classes will begin next week, Gardner said. The school’s reopening plans were reviewed and approved by the town’s Board of Health.

“All students will return,” Gardner said. “And when I say all, I mean all 102 of them.”

Students will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result prior to arriving on campus. In coordination with the adjusted state travel orders, Gardner said students traveling from higher risk states will need to have a negative test result from within 72 hours of their arrival on campus. Students will also need to take a second test after the first two weeks of classes.

“The first round ensures nobody was infected before travel, and the second ensures nobody was infected during travel,” Gardner said. He added that the school has access to rapid testing supplies.

Students will not be allowed to leave campus for the first two weeks, before the second round of testing confirms that an outbreak was avoided during the move-in process. Designated couriers will be available to make consolidated shopping trips into Northfield or neighboring areas, if necessary. Students will be required to wear masks in the classrooms and in common rooms during the first stage of the reopening plan.

“After our second round of testing, if the whole campus community is cleared, they will be allowed to take off masks for their interactions within the campus — as we will be functioning as one large household,” Gardner said. “If there were a case on campus after that, masks would again be required until further notice.”

If the second round of testing shows students are clear, students also would be allowed to leave campus, albeit with limitations. Gardner said students will be required to follow the rules and health safety regulations set by whatever town or business they visit, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Should a student or staff member contract COVID-19, Gardner said the small campus population, and the size of the campus, provides Thomas Aquinas College with ample facilities for students and staff members to quarantine. Another round of testing would be required to ensure the positive case was isolated and other people were not infected. If the infected individual tests negative after two weeks, they can return to campus groups.

Many of the college’s regular practices are similar to changes that larger institutions have had to make when considering COVID-19 restrictions and ways to curb the spread of the virus. Gardner said Thomas Aquinas College usually only has 15 to 18 students per class, and these smaller groups of students take most of their classes together, as a cohort.

“That has the benefit for potential contact tracing,” Gardner noted.

Gardner said the college feels well-situated to operate safely amid the lasting public health crisis because all students and faculty members, including teachers and dining staff, reside in college housing on campus or immediately adjacent to the grounds. Faculty and staff members will be required to participate in the same rounds of testing as the students. Gardner said everyone is asked to “buy in” and follow the regulations to keep their self-contained community, and neighboring communities, safe.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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