By Len La Rocca
In a major step toward normalcy in the Covid-19 pandemic, the College will be returning to in-person operations in the fall 2021 semester, President Kathryn Foster announced in a campus-wide email.
“This is the message I have wanted to write for fifteen months,” she wrote. “It is the one that responds to our collective yearning for community and connection by announcing that TCNJ is all-systems-go for an in-person return to campus in Fall 2021.”
The College is also adding the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for all students, which already includes Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Meningococcal Meningitis ACWY, Varicella, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap) and Hepatitis B. Foster announced that students must upload their proof of vaccination by July 23 through OWL.
Foster’s email noted that “students with valid medical reasons precluding vaccination, as well as those with established and sincerely held religious beliefs that preclude receipt of a vaccination, may request an exemption from the vaccine requirement.” The College also expects to require all employees to be vaccinated, including part-time and temporary workers.
Student Health Services will continue administering vaccines to students and faculty through on-campus vaccine clinics. Hundreds of community members have received the Moderna vaccine on campus thus far and students have another opportunity on May 10. Students can register for an appointment at this link using the activation code sent in a May 6 email by Janice Vermeychuk, Director of Student Health Services
Foster also pointed out that students can receive one dose at the College and the other elsewhere, broadening access. “This enables those on or near campus to take advantage of the TCNJ vaccine clinic now and complete their vaccination series at a site closer to their summer location,” she noted.
Bergen New Bridge Medical Center will continue administering once-per-week Covid-19 tests for students, faculty and staff coming to campus this summer. In the fall, the College anticipates a reduced expectation for testing of fully vaccinated members of the community. Testing will still be available in the fall through Bergen New Bridge.
After over a year of remote and hybrid classes, Zoom events and an overall diluted college experience, Foster defined “in-person” as repopulation of students, faculty and staff to campus after leaving in March 2020 without a timeline for return.
“While I’ll never forget the year and a half of college life that Covid took from me and millions of others, I’m excited to rejoin the campus community this fall,” said junior chemistry major Mark O’Malley. “It’s been a monastic experience that I’m anxious to see end.”
Although returning to a sense of normality, the College is still following safe health guidelines from the state, such as the present protocol of 6-foot social distancing. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may adjust these guidelines, the College is prepared to rotate groups of students for in-person class attendance in the event that indoor spacing does not allow for full classrooms come the fall semester.
As Gov. Murphy announced restriction pullbacks for the state in a May 3 announcement, he imagined the distancing protocol would decrease, though he affirmed that it is up to the CDC. “My guess is that that 6-foot number will come down assuming the nation continues to make progress,” Murphy said.
The College-famous Welcome Week experience, typically for first-year students, will proceed in person with special activities for sophomores who missed out on the introduction to the College this past fall due to the remote semester.
Doubles and suites will once again become available in residence halls along with lounges and social spaces. One residence hall will remain reserved as an isolation space in the event a student contracts Covid-19.
After 418 days of uncertainty, countless Zooms and over 400 cases of Covid-19 in the community, students now have a glimmer of hope that an end to the Covid-19 pandemic is on the horizon.
“It’s just tiring like not doing anything for over a year and not being able to be in class and actually talk with my professor and get to know my fellow students,” said Cody Conrad, a junior history and secondary education dual major. “Things are gonna be so much better when we’re all back on campus.”
Foster noted that plans can change if the pandemic landscape intensifies. “Although the fall is still several months away, which means that the current course of the pandemic and state regulations may change, the improving conditions give us optimism for our fall plans,” she wrote. “Welcoming you back, meeting in person and enjoying the opportunity to once again learn and work together is a vision within our grasp. Thank you for your resilience and dedication as we head back to the future at The College of New Jersey.”