Higher education institutions discuss safety protocols

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Preventing COVID-19 outbreaks is the daunting task facing local colleges and universities as they reopen for the fall. The big question is, can campuses keep the learning environment safe during the pandemic?

In just a matter of weeks, campuses like King’s College will reopen. Before it does, it’s teaming up with more than a dozen other northeastern and central Pennsylvania colleges and universities to develop safety protocols.

“I haven’t been back since March 13th,” said King’s College Theology Professor Janice Thompson.

This was the first time in four months Thompson is on campus. Her thoughts are on keeping the campus safe during the pandemic.

“The livelihood of people who work here, the health of our students depends on people in Pennsylvania wearing masks and hand sanitizing,” Thompson said.

King’s joined 13 other schools with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities (NEPACU) to come up with a concrete plan.

In an attempt to reopen their campuses safely amid COVID-19 concerns, participating colleges and universities are coordinating on four areas: prevention, interventions, community engagement and communication.

For starters, King’s is cutting classroom size by as much as two-thirds and only takeout for its food services.

“The key word is restricted and behavioral modification. Everything is restricted. You can’t do things the same way,” said Rev. Jack Ryan, President of King’s College

King’s College and the other NEPACU schools have come up with pandemic-associated actions including a shared calendar of critical events like opening and closing, student safety protocols and athletic schedules. 

The schools are consulting with Geisinger Health System on how to handle everything from COVID-19 containment to mitigation.

Dr. Jerry Maloney, Chief Medical Officer at Geisinger Hospital Services, says they are trying to get the colleges to think through every possible scenario that could involve a student when they come back to school in the fall. 

“What happens if the student is exposed to someone who has known COVID disease? What happens if a student becomes sick? How do we decide who needs to be tested? If we decide someone needs to be tested, how do we make sure that happens? What do we do with the student who becomes sick,” Maloney said. 

“And so we have an obligation to make sure this community is safe and that we’re doing everything we can to not only ensure our college and university communities but the safety and well-being of the communities in which we are embedded,” Rev. Ryan said.

King’s College is also asking its commuter and dorm life students to sign a pledge of safe practices.

For more information on these safety protocols visit Geisinger’s Education Resources website.    

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