Through surveying students for questions and concerns they still have regarding the pandemic, interviews were conducted with Melinda Heikkinen, director of public safety and COVID-19 coordinator; Patti Klein-Kersten, vice president of student affairs, dean of students and Title IX coordinator; Javier Gutierrev, associate dean of students in student affairs; and Jodi Metz, PA-C (physician assistant) and Director of Health Services.
Q: How many Hamline students have contracted COVID-19 since school and activities have begun?
MH: I track the numbers a little bit differently than that. We’re looking at active cases… As of [Sept. 23 at 2:00 p.m.] we had eight cases and that includes students and employees, and…I think three of them may have come off the list [Sept. 24]. So our numbers are relatively low, and these are cases that are reported to us.
Q: Why aren’t we counting off-campus cases?
MH: We do… Numbers are very nuanced in that we have students that are completely remote… They are still reporting to us because they are our students and we want to make sure they have the resources they need, but it is not going to impact campus because contact tracing isn’t going to bring it back here.
Q: Will Hamline be disclosing if there are cases on or off campus and the status of the severity of COVID-19? If so, how will the school be communicating this?
MH: So right now if you go onto the Hamline website at the very top you will see a banner that says “COVID Preparedness Plan.” If you click on that link the very first thing you see is our Shift Plan Level and it indicates where we are and the critique for when we might go to a higher level.
Hamline is functioning under level two right now… At this point we are not putting out specific numbers because they are very nuanced and we have some concern about, if for instance, you reported to me you were positive and suddenly that number pops up on a webpage, what that does to you. But we are constantly reassessing that.
Q: What are the consequences of having parties or attending parties, having people over outside your dorm building, or not obeying other policies?
MH: … Repeated refusal to comply to certain policies for students we are sending to conduct… If you attend those parties you are actually creating a danger for your fellow Pipers here on campus. For my case management team, if they get the inkling that this happened at a party, they are not reporting that “hey, I think this happened at a party.” It is really, really important that students feel safe and trust that they can report and do what they need to do. That being said, from a public safety standpoint, if I get a police report or neighbor’s complaint or my patrol officers observe a large gathering in a house or something, that will go to conduct. That includes our off-campus houses.
JG: A lot of schools created policies for COVID. At Hamline, we didn’t because we felt our policies already encompassed it… Every student has the right and ability to give their side of the story first. Depending on the situation, appropriate sanctions are imposed. We don’t do a blanket sanctioning because every situation is different… We want to give students the opportunity to talk and explain. Our philosophy with conduct is always education, what can a student learn from the process when it happens.
PKK: Students are responsible for our code of conduct and [that] does talk about following all city, state and federal laws and mandates as well as our own university policies…
Q: Students have concerns regarding why athletes seem to be held at a different standard or get a “free pass” when it comes to restrictions?
MH: I am working directly with athletics. The athletic director is holding them to task. Unfortunately with COVID sometimes that is after the fact
JG: Every incident that comes to me gets investigated and looked into… What I am finding is students who live off campus seem to be doing their research about if they want to have a gathering, what are the guidelines. They are reading up on the current ordinances… Some people are really doing that… I can say students are held accountable when the facts are more likely than not when policies or guidelines were violated.
PKK: I will say our athletes are students as well and are held to the same standards and expectations. What I will also say is that within the NCAA there are pieces in regards to training and practicing that may create what would seem as something different than the overall standard, but those are created in ways to be able to create safe experiences for the athletes to continue their sports. So if it’s in that kind of capacity then I know that the athletic department have worked very closely alongside the MIAC and NCAA standards. If there are other pieces with that, athletes are students first. So if there is an athlete and if something has come up in regards to a concern then it should be going through our conduct process like any other student.
Q: A lot of students are concerned about the difference in education between in-person and online and the fact that tuition was not reduced. Do you believe the education students are receiving this year is comparable to other years when classes were “normal?”
JG: The quality I think is still the same. [It’s] the same faculty, all their knowledge… research, they are still presenting everything. The experience is definitely different by not being in person… A lot of things affect the virtual experience. …o people have access to the wifi, do people have a safe place to study? I can’t really speak to if the cost is equitable or if it should be that, but I can say I think the quality is still the same. It is still the same professor teaching their same material.
Q: Will there be any more precautions taking place during the expected peak season coming up?
MH: We are accessing that all the time, we have already done many of the things that the Department of Health has advised… We are really trying hard to have some kind sort of social interactions on campus. That is one area we may have to get more restrictive of, we may not … The state may [also] direct us that we have to go remote. Hamline may be doing really, really well and the state may tell everyone to go remote. There are a variety of things that may happen.
Q: Is Hamline getting an outdoor/separate testing site? If so, when?
JM: Yes. We are awaiting installation of a trailer where Health Services staff will be conducting covid testing and evaluating students with other respiratory symptoms/illnesses. This will help Health Services staff more efficiently schedule health appointments for students. I understand the trailer will be arriving imminently… We are currently pre-screening and conducting covid-19 testing most weekday afternoons in the courtyard of Manor Hall.
Q: What does the process of contact tracing really look like?
MH: We actually changed it from contact tracer to case manager because the state and the Department of Health does the official contact tracing… What we are doing on campus is we are reaching out to students and asking them about contact within the Hamline community so we can kinda get ahead of that just a little bit. The other thing the case managers are doing is if a student goes into quarantine or isolation here on campus those case managers will be the daily contact… So [the case managers] are a little bit more of a resource… We have consciously chosen here at Hamline not to assume [a contact tracing] role. There was a lot that went on behind the seasons before we would be prepared to do that and it just didn’t make sense for us.
Q: When will students find out about next semester?
JG: … I did not create the academic calendar so I can’t say for sure, but my understanding is that the spring will be the same as this fall because right now we don’t anticipate any changes to COVID which is really the driving force. Until there is a treatment, a prevention that can be widespread and accessible to everyone, I think the spring is going to probably be the same as it is now for the safety of everyone.
Q: When, where and why should students get tested? Does insurance cover it?
MH: Generally speaking, on campus the health services are offering testing most afternoons…”
Heikkinen recommended reaching out to health services regarding whether they should get tested or not if they are concerned. Additionally, reaching out to them with any insurance concerns.
Q: Why weren’t students tested prior to coming to campus?
MH: We have been following the Minnesota Department of Health guidance. That was in the category where they did not feel it was completely necessary. It is important to remember that the test is only that moment in time, so if we had you tested on Monday it doesn’t mean you won’t test positive on Tuesday.
Q: Do you think Hamline is doing better compared to other institutions of higher education?
MH: Generally, we are doing quite well. That is a testament to the students doing what they need to do to protect each other and doing the right thing for the benefit of the community.
JG: I think in some aspects we are and some we are not…I know the guest policy is hard on students and we will probably revisit it when we can, but that’s probably the best decision we could make right now for safety… A lot of schools were thrown for a loop and we are doing the best we can.
JM: Hamline is doing relatively well given the rapidly evolving situation in Minnesota, the lack of cohesive plan on a federal level as well as financial and staffing limitations compared to other institutions. Hamline students in particular have been very compliant with public health guidelines, which I know are difficult for all of us. Most students have also been cooperative with both Health Services staff and investigators/contact tracers with the Minnesota Department of Health, which is helpful to those of us on the front lines working to keep this virus at bay in our community.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
JM: I would encourage every Hamline community member to get a flu shot this year. Differentiating respiratory illnesses like colds, sinus infections, influenza, or strep throat is a challenge for healthcare professionals every year and the addition of the novel coronavirus will only add to that challenge this fall and winter. I would also like to thank Hamline students for their cooperation adhering to the evolving public health guidance despite the fatigue we are all experiencing and for their patience as we continue to adjust Health Services operations and schedules.
JG: I really hope the Hamline community faculty, students, staff continue to help each other with keeping our community safe. What sometimes people don’t realize is that while students can maybe still learn online… there are a lot of people who still depend on work… our staff on campus. [One], we are invested in the health of everyone. But we also want to make sure that people can live and survive as well. If this school has to shut down or go remote, there are a lot of other consequences.
PKK: This is all of us coming together and working together. What I have heard from students, being able to be here is
It’s on all of us, our faculty, students, staff to continue to keep that option available… We all have to do this together. Not only for our campus, but for our broader communities as well… and allow us to let it bring us together instead of ripping us apart.