By Sean Leonard
With 1139 students residing on campus, the College has seen 150 Covid-19 cases among students since the beginning of the semester. A Feb. 28 email from President Foster addressed the recent spike and warned that a shelter-in-place would be implemented if cases do not decrease in the upcoming weeks.
Many students are worried that stricter measures will not improve the situation and not enough is being done to address what is actually causing the recent spike.
The “Barstool TCNJ” (@tcnjbarstool) Instagram account has added to the controversy in recent weeks. The account has gained over 1,300 followers and has posted several videos relating to the recent snowball fight, large gatherings and complaints about the College’s decision to replace Spring Break with a “Recharge Week.” According to Foster’s email, a concerning number of student conduct cases have been filed this semester, including some pertaining to Barstool TCNJ.
When the opportunity opened for students to come to campus for the spring semester, many signed up despite the limited amount of in-person classes. This includes seniors who wanted to make the most of their last semester at the College, freshmen wanting to experience campus life and others in between.
Senior chemistry major Maxwell Cerra said he is living this semester in Hausdoerffer Hall to get a change of scenery from being at home for so long. Cerra said he has been going on campus for his chemistry labs, but he will take them virtually from now because of the recent spike.
Cerra said he spends most of his day in his room except to get food and go for walks. However, he said he feels shelter-in-place would ruin the point of coming to campus in the first place.
“I feel like I would get sick — not from Covid, but from being locked in my dorm all day for a couple of weeks if the threat is carried out,” Cerra said. “I know there are people who are saying they’ll probably go home if that happens, especially if (Foster) does it for the rest of the semester.”
Freshman English major Greta Soos is an international student from Hungary and is currently quarantining before moving into Decker Hall. Since she is not from the U.S., she most likely will not go home if the campus shuts down, but said she will see how bad the situation is.
Soos said she did not expect students to take the safety precautions seriously, but also did not expect the size of the current surge. She said a temporary shelter-in-place might be the right decision based on the number of cases, but she is scared about how it will affect students’ mental health.
“I think it will help students follow the guidelines more and prompt them to take Covid more seriously,” Soos said. “I believe that TCNJ is trying its best to reduce the number of positive cases and thus think that it’s not a bad decision. Yes, it is inconvenient but it will make a difference in decreasing the Covid cases.”
Freshman history major Jaison Hiltner said the campus is currently restrictive as it is now, so the shelter-in-place threat is confusing.
“President Foster’s message about potential changes just seems very backhanded as she seems more focused on punishing us for attempting to socialize instead of trying to provide us with opportunities for socialization,” Hiltner said.
One challenge for freshmen is the inability to have roommates, which can be influencing them to interact with peers on their floors. Soos said it has been difficult to meet other freshmen because of the limitations of Zoom and social media. She said she is not sure if the situation would be better or worse if freshmen had roommates.
“It depends on how you connect with your roommate,” Soos said. “If you guys are good friends, then at least you have someone to talk with regularly. However if you despise each other, then you would avoid that situation as much as possible.”
Hiltner has been quarantined in New Residence Hall since Feb. 22 after being designated as a close contact. Although many students have already gone through the same process, Hiltner said the College did not handle his situation well.
Students are told they only have 90 minutes to move into the other dorms for quarantine and isolation, but Hiltner said it took half a day to receive the keys and cart necessary for moving his belongings.
“They have one person doing all the work, forcing them to work extremely hard and have to handle so many students at one time, making things slower,” Hiltner said.
Hiltner also said he was surprised by the lack of communication from the College after he was moved into New Residence to quarantine.
“I have not had one person from the school check up on me and make sure I was okay. I understand they have to monitor a whole school, but just a little check into the mental health of quarantined students would go a long way,” Hiltner said.
Since this is Cerra’s last semester at the College, he said he has a light schedule. Being tested twice a week is not an inconvenience for him. But if a shelter-in-place was implemented, he said he would consider going home. Also, according to the Spring-Flex site, students who are positive for Covid-19 are exempt from testing for 90 days after receiving their results.
Cerra said he is not aware of any positive cases in Hausdoerffer Hall and that he does not believe Covid-19 is spreading in campus buildings like Eickhoff or the library. He said it’s more important to target the areas where the cases are occurring.
“It relies primarily on collective cooperation….For the most part, people are already being fairly conscientious. If there’s a specific area where these cases are occurring, it makes more sense to go after them,” Cerra said. “I think it’s unlikely that these cases are distributed uniformly across the campus.