No match for COVID-19, Temple Univ. students get ready for life online

Temple University in Philadelphia (Photo by Brendan O'Kane via Flickr Commons)

Temple University sophomore Megan Phillips was just getting used to life on the university’s sprawling Philadelphia campus when the order came down: Thanks to a spike in coronavirus cases, Temple officials were moving all classes online for the rest of the fall semester.

“In my opinion,  a large number of Temple students did all the right things. They wore masks, followed protocol, kept their social circle very small, etc,” Phillips, of Ardmore, Pa., told the Capital-Star this week. “I don’t think that the blame should be shifted to ‘off-campus gatherings.’ though. I think that schools across the country should take ownership as they were completely aware of the inevitable outbreaks that would occur.”

Temple’s president, Richard Englert made the announcement on Sept. 3, putting Temple in the company of colleges and universities across the country that have struggled to restart classes amid virus outbreaks numbering in the hundreds and thousands, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported.

“In the last few weeks, as we welcomed back students for the fall semester, we have engaged in extensive testing and tracked the results,” Englert said. “Fortunately, those who have tested positive for COVID-19 have shown either no or mild to moderate flu-like symptoms. Each step of the way, our decisions have been data driven.”

As of Sept. 8, Temple had 283 active cases among students and employees, according to the student newspaper, The Temple News.

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Students in university housing who choose to move out by Sept. 13 will be provided a full refund of housing and meal plan charges for the fall semester. Individuals who want or need to remain on campus in order to access available resources, are allowed to stay, officials said.

Collin Haber, a senior musical theater major, who lives off-campus, told the Temple News that he sympathized with on-campus students who were facing the decision to move.

“I feel like [moving classes online] is for the best,” Haber, told the student newspaper. “It sucks for freshmen because they’re not getting through the experience. Like I said to my friend, ‘It is going to be uphill from here and the years to come, and this is the safest, best option right now.’”

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Mark Denys, Temple’s senior director of health services, sent updated guidelines and information to the Temple community regarding COVID-19 and the university’s decision about the fall semester.

The Philadelphia Health Department is currently working closely with the university. An in-house contact tracing team has been established and works to identify close contacts of cases and ensure they are tested for the virus and follow proper quarantine protocols, officials said.

The majority of Temple students live in housing, both on campus, and off,  that requires living in close quarters. Students who test positive for the virus are required to isolate.

This means the student must remain in their bedroom, or, in the case of on-campus students, to move to another location if they are unable to isolate. The other students who were exposed to the individuals that tested positive are required to quarantine for 14 days after they were exposed to COVID-19.

If other students test positive, they must isolate for 10 days starting from the day they were tested. If the students develop symptoms they must continue isolation for a minimum of 10 days and be free of fever for at least 24 hours without using fever- reducing medication.

On-campus testing is available for students who have been identified as a close contact of someone COVID-positive, along with limited testing offered this past weekend for students returning home.

“It may not be easy, but we all must continue to follow the health and safety protocols and comply with testing and exposure guidance,” Denys said. “Together or apart, we remain in this together.”

In a June 15 op-Ed for the New York Times, Temple psychology professor Laurence Steinberg warned that “expecting students to play it safe if colleges reopen [was] a fantasy.” He added that universities’ safety plans “[bordered] on delusional,” and could “lead to outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff.”

Speaking to the Inquirer on Sept. 3, Steinberg wasn’t surprised that the future he’d predicted months earlier had come to pass.

“I gave the experiment a few weeks,” he told the newspaper. “Looks like at bigger schools it’s not even that long before it’s clear the plan isn’t working.”

Correspondent Michala Butler, of Harrisburg, is a Temple University junior. Follow her on Twitter @MickiB16.