NMH students to return with regular testing, restricted access

  • Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill will welcome students back to campus this fall with requirements in place for quarantining and recurring COVID-19 testing. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2020 4:20:28 PM

GILL — Northfield Mount Hermon School will welcome students back to campus this fall with requirements in place for quarantining and recurring COVID-19 testing.

According to the “Back to School Plan” posted on the NMH website, families must secure a negative test result following a student’s arrival to New England, but before they are on campus. This is to mitigate concern that testing before arrival may miss a recent infection, and to ensure students are not asymptomatic carriers.

Students traveling from out of state will also have to comply with Gov. Charlie Baker’s updated travel requirements. Travelers must quarantine for 14 days following their arrival in Massachusetts although there are exceptions for states with low infection numbers. Travelers are exempt from the quarantine requirement if they can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result with the sample taken no more than 72 hours before their arrival in Massachusetts.

“Our planning relies on the distinctive core strengths that set our school apart,” said Head of School Brian Hargrove. “Our location in the Pioneer Valley and our ability to limit access on campus, to regularly test our students and trace any potential transmission of COVID-19 give us an opportunity to safely deliver our mission and serve our students.”

Access to campus will be controlled and, at times, limited. According to the plan, families will not be able to freely attend sporting events and art performances in person. Campus access for visitors will also likely be limited to specific spaces.

Any boarding student needing to leave campus for day or overnight travel will be required to obtain special permission from the Dean of Students Office. When students return to campus from significant off-campus travel, they will be screened and, if NMH determines it’s necessary, tested and quarantined.

If families decide to test before traveling instead of quarantining in the region or on campus, they must notify the Dean of Students Office immediately at deansofficereply@nmhschool.org or 413-498-3423. NMH will continue to offer the 14-day on-campus quarantine option for students who registered. Any student participating in on-campus quarantine will be tested upon arrival, and again five to seven days later.

Students who get to campus during the phased arrival process, starting Aug. 25, will be tested upon their arrival and at the end of the first week of classes, which begin Aug. 31. Students who test positive will be isolated on campus, but will be able to participate in classes remotely.

In addition to testing when students arrive, testing will be conducted as needed throughout the year as determined by staff members. The plan states testing will be divided into two categories: diagnostic, if a student is sick; and surveillance, broad testing within a population such as a dormitory “hall pod.” Classrooms and common areas will be “de-densified” to allow for social distancing of at least 3 feet of separation, and ideally 6 feet of separation.

Diagnostic testing will be performed at the O’Connor Health and Wellness Center, with immediate results and isolation of positive cases. As for surveillance testing, the school will follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Public Health.

All employees, students and registered guests will be screened by completing a wellness questionnaire. The school is asking that boarding students perform this daily screening first thing in the morning before leaving their dorm, and for day students to perform this daily screening before leaving for school.

If a positive test presents, the school will initiate contact tracing, establish quarantine procedures and initiate deep cleaning of infected areas.

“As we plan for next year at Northfield Mount Hermon, we seek to leverage our people, place and program in new ways,” Hargrove said. “At all times, we have prioritized our community’s health, safety and well-being.”

NMH will also use a color system to indicate COVID-19 prevalence, and will communicate the status to students and staff members daily. “Green” means there are no COVID-19 cases in New England or the New York metropolitan area; “yellow” means cases are reported in one or more of the surrounding counties, but not on campus or among anyone connected to employees or day students; “orange” means there is an isolated positive case among students, campus residents and/or student-facing employees following a contact-tracing investigation; and “red” means there are multiple confirmed cases among campus residents and/or student-facing employees.

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

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