By Abby Weingarten
As the COVID-19 Delta variant surges in Sarasota-Manatee and Florida takes the lead as the new U.S. epicenter for the virus, students are preparing to return to New College by the middle of the month.
With this in mind, vigilant campus leaders have a message for the community:
Protect each other. Help slow the spread. And get vaccinated.
This sentiment is being consistently sounded throughout the entire State University System (SUS) of Florida (read the Fall 2021 letter to students from presidents of Florida SUS universities, which was released last week).
“As we move forward this fall, New College of Florida continues to work with the community to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 virus,” said Anne Fisher, Ph.D., the program director for the College’s Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC). “We did well with our efforts this last year. Although the situation shifts frequently, we are committed to creating the healthiest community for all of us.”
Last Wednesday, New College Vice President for Finance and Administration Chris Kinsley issued this statement to all faculty, staff and students:
“To help us provide high-quality classes, student services and extracurricular activities in a healthy environment, we strongly recommend that all employees and students get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus immediately.”
Championing protective measures
New College employees are now required to submit negative COVID-19 test results to the Human Resources (HR) Department no later than August 12. Vaccinated employees have the option to submit a copy of their vaccination record in lieu of the mandatory test. And employees who test positive should remain off campus and contact HR for details about when they may return to campus.
Students are required to submit negative COVID-19 test results to the CWC no sooner than two weeks before moving to campus. Fully vaccinated students have the option to submit a copy of their vaccination record to the CWC in lieu of the mandatory test.
“Being vaccinated is your greatest protection from COVID-19,” Kinsley said, “and you are likely to avoid disruptions in your semester if you are exposed to COVID-19.”
Following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New College leaders also strongly recommend that everyone on campus wears masks indoors when in public settings.
“While not a mandate, we know that the current community transmission rate in both Manatee and Sarasota counties is ‘high’ per the CDC,” Kinsley said of the mask recommendation.
Additionally, employees who have a medical condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system should continue to follow the CDC guidelines for unvaccinated individuals.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, our successes on campus have been a result of our commitment to the health and well-being of our community by taking recommended safety precautions,” Kinsley said. “With all of us working together, we can share the responsibility of successfully protecting our community as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”
How New College has navigated the pandemic so far
In an attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve during the Spring 2020 semester, students and employees evacuated the New College campus by mid-March (weeks before Florida mandated a statewide lockdown on April 3).
To support Novo Collegians in all aspects of wellness during this transition, the CWC shifted its counseling sessions to a video chat platform called the Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) program, the Student Success Center offered virtual one-on-one coaching, and the Student Affairs and Housing/Residential Life staff helped students move out of their dorm rooms. Most students spent the remainder of the spring semester at home, learning virtually for the first time.
By June 2020, New College was ready to present its fall reopening plan to the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) for the SUS. Fisher conducted intensive research to help prepare the safety guidelines—from masking measures to testing and social distancing—and followed official recommendations from the CDC. A hybrid model (both in-the-classroom and online) was put in place for the fall semester.
Before students arrived on campus, New College’s Physical Plant staff thoroughly prepared the grounds. The team changed the types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filters in campus buildings; installed Plexiglass and wall-hung sanitizing stations; worked with campus stakeholders to place appropriate COVID-19 signage as reminders of CDC guidelines; consulted with vendors regarding ultraviolet lighting and bipolar ionization technologies for buildings; applied an antimicrobial barrier spray to surfaces; and investigated the indoor air quality (IAQ) of various high-occupancy buildings.
New College asked the companies Carrier and NORESCO to conduct both an IAQ and ventilation assessment of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, the Academic Center (ACE) and the V Dorm buildings. The buildings were chosen because they best represented the various ages and types of structures on the campus.
Carrier experts confirmed that the indoor particulate matter was within acceptable levels, and that the buildings’ ventilation systems were performing within industry and code requirements. The assessment provided assurance to students and employees that the buildings were safe for use in the fall.
A cautious reopening in Fall 2020
With a typical student population of 700, a total of 90 professors, a student-to-faculty ratio of 7-to-1, and an average class size of 12 students, New College has a makeup unlike any other institution in the SUS. This smallness gave New College an advantage in terms of providing ample classroom spacing, customized housing accommodations and general scheduling flexibility.
In August, students began to settle into their new homes at New College. Move-in dates were staggered throughout the dorms, and private rooms were issued (unless students specifically requested roommates). Upon arrival, students and families were greeted by New College staff members in masks and gloves, and given welcome packs (with masks, water bottles, campus maps and parking permits). Randy Harrell, New College’s interim dean of student affairs, referred to the personalized process as a “concierge check-in.”
The total number of students living on campus (and thus, the density of residential halls) was reduced. All students and employees were tested for COVID-19 before the reopening, and regular random testing of 10 percent of everyone on campus was conducted weekly (via drive-through or walk-up testing clinics set up at various onsite locations). This random testing method was intended to enable New College to establish a baseline against which to measure and trace future infections.
As a further precaution, all members of the New College community were asked to use a daily COVID-19 symptom self-checker before coming to campus. Because New College lacks a medical or public health school for in-house advice, Student Health Services (SHS) on the adjacent University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) campus has provided all medical services to students.
A committed community
The first round of onsite COVID-19 testing at New College—in preparation for the reopening of campus in Fall 2020—was held last August.
Lab Services hosted a drive-through clinic outside of Sainer Pavilion, oropharyngeal (throat) swabs were administered, and participants received their test results via email within 24 to 48 hours.
Jeff Thomas, the director of campus space scheduling at New College, as well as multiple student employees, manned the testing sites every week from August 2020 to May 2021.
In September 2020, New College hired Susan Stahley to be the health educator for the CWC. One of her key roles is helping students navigate COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as participating in testing and communicating concerns about potential exposure.
Yosef Shapiro, the director of environment health and safety/emergency management, joined New College around the same time as Stahley. He has been instrumental in inspecting the campus for safety issues and helping Fisher with COVID-19 contact tracing.
Soon after Stahley and Shapiro were brought onboard, New College Student Alliance (NSCA) President Sofia Lombardi hired two COVID-19 student liaisons: Oci Krasny and Courtney Miller. The overall goal of the liaison initiative was to “increase the transparency and process between New College and students,” Stahley said.
“We act as a bridge to help ensure that student concerns are heard by the appropriate members of the administration. We also work on providing effective and engaging communications, and educational material to students,” the liaisons said. “We have created resources for students to share COVID concerns and questions, including an anonymous ‘COVID Concerns’ tip line.”
In April, with the goal of increasing vaccine accessibility community-wide, New College hosted its first of several on-campus walkup clinics.
A partnership with the Sarasota County Health Department, the free event was held in Harry Sudakoff Conference Center. All students, faculty, staff and alumni from New College and the USFSM, as well as everyone ages 18 and older in the greater Sarasota-Manatee area—was welcome to attend without appointments or insurance.
The vaccine clinic is an example of New College’s ongoing commitment to the health and safety of the campus community and beyond.
If you test positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, remain off campus and contact the CWC at 941-487-4254 (option 2), ncf.edu/cwc for further guidance. Please do not come to campus until you are cleared to do so.
To review New College’s campus updates, policies and procedures regarding COVID-19, visit ncf.edu/covid-19.
For flow charts on what to do after testing positive, coming in contact with someone who has tested positive, or if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, visit:
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.