New protocols prevent and respond to COVID-19 on campus

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Campus Closed sign at Thompson Gates entrance at Occidental College. Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Halle Steckel/The Occidental

With Occidental College conducting the Fall 2020 semester remotely, staff and students who are still on campus have adopted new safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emmons Wellness Center is leading COVID-19 prevention and infection response efforts, Facilities Management has increased cleaning efforts, Campus Safety is enforcing Occidental’s closed campus and Campus Dining has transitioned to takeout meals.

According to Occidental’s COVID-19 webpage, students and any employees visiting the campus must wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash hands and monitor symptoms by using the daily health check accessible through myOxy.

According to Senior Director of Student Wellness Sara Semal, Emmons is dealing with COVID-19 on campus alongside their normal operations by both monitoring the daily health checks as well as running COVID-19 tests for students and employees. According to Semal, students and workers on campus will be tested five times throughout the fall semester. Emmons also gave healthcare kits to students and employees, which included cleaning supplies, masks, thermometers, contactless keys and hand sanitizer, amongst other products upon their arrival.

“Normally Emmons is a student health center but now we’re providing services to the whole community like faculty and staff,” Semal said. “That’s a big challenge to increase our capacity in that way.”.

According to Semal, one staff member tested positive this semester and was guided by Emmons throughout their time in isolation. Occidental’s isolation protocols require individuals to remain in their residence without any public contact, even if they do not have active symptoms.

According to Semal, one student on campus has been exposed to the virus and had to quarantine this semester. According to Occidental’s quarantine procedures, individuals must quarantine in their residence for at least 14 days with limited public contact.

“Luckily students on campus are living in Berkus with most having their own room and bathroom,” Semal said. “Most students don’t even have to move rooms if they needed to quarantine or isolate.”

COVID-19 safety measures posted on campus bulletin at Occidental College. Friday, Sep. 11, 2020. Halle Steckel/The Occidental

According to Cleaning Services manager Mario Bonilla, the cleaning staff uses personal protective equipment such as washable and disposable masks, gloves, booties and gowns when they need to enter a quarantined student’s room.

According to Bonilla, the college has invested in 10 new disinfectant spray machines. This allows them to efficiently cover more surface area in a shorter amount of time with an emphasized focus on cleaning high traffic areas.

“We have had to increase the frequency of cleaning,” Bonilla said. “In the past we wouldn’t constantly clean door handles, break rooms or hard surfaces because we would just do our normal cleaning, but since this pandemic started we have had to become creative to do more disinfecting.” 

LA guidelines mandate that dining facility restrooms, such as those in the Marketplace, be cleaned every hour whereas those not in dining facilities need only be disinfected twice a day, according to Bonilla.

Occidental is currently closed to visitors. According to Director of Campus Safety Rick Tanksley, there are many signs on campus to ensure that no unauthorized visitors enter. However, there have still been instances in which Campus Safety has removed unauthorized people from the track and swimming pool.

“We’ve had instances where visitors will come to campus because, you know, just like everybody else they want a respite,” Tanksley said. “We continually draw those individuals’ attention to the fact that our campus is closed to visitors.”

Campus Safety often reminds on-campus students of the mask requirement while patrolling. Tanksley said one effective implementation tool has been the Livesafe app as it allows anyone to anonymously report protocol violations. Students are referred to the conduct office when guidelines are not followed, according to Tanksley.

“It is not just Campus Safety’s responsibility to ensure that people are following the protocols on the campus,” Tanksley said. “It is everybody’s responsibility because this is a public health matter.”

According to the Director of Operations for Hospitality Services Judy Runyon, the Marketplace is the only open dining facility.

“Our goal is we’re here to support,” Runyon said. “No matter whether we have 100 students or 2,100 students we want to provide them substantial meals that help their learning experience.”

According to Runyon, students on campus can safely enter to grab a meal or they can use the Tiger Takeout system, which was originally implemented for students living nearby and enables them to order ahead of time for pick up on the Branca Family Patio.

Social distancing instruction stickers outside of the Tiger Takeout pickup location at Occidental College. Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Halle Steckel/The Occidental

“The students that are here are pretty isolated themselves so we like to make them feel comfortable, give them a smile, and let them know that we are here for them,” said Runyon. “So it has been lovely to see the ones that are here.” 

Nicole Mastanov (junior) is a campus resident this semester and says that being there feels very sad and desolate. Mastanov said she believes the protocols are stringent yet reasonable. However, she misses brief casual interactions with her peers and professors.

“College is like a bunch of kids on a cruise ship because we do so much together,” Mastanov said. “When that changes so drastically in an unexpected way it’s definitely very hard.”