Coronavirus pushes Mount online until January

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It’s a practice increasing in popularity as the holiday season approaches and as coronavirus cases begin to spike again nationwide. Many schools — especially at the high school and college level — are limping across the in-person class finish line at Thanksgiving break, and are going fully remote until mid-January.

The goal? To abate any community spread after holiday travels and family gatherings.

But the College of Mount Saint Vincent shifted to remote classes earlier than expected, announcing last week undergraduate classes would move off campus as early as this past Monday. All classes — except those in the accelerated nursing program — would need to move fully remote for the week of Nov. 16 and remain that way for the duration of the fall semester. 

The campus offices, however, would still operate in-person during that time.

Unlike other colleges in the area — like Manhattan College — The Mount didn’t originally plan to shift to fully remote classes after Thanksgiving. In fact, it planned to stay in-person through final exams. That appeared to still be the case as late as Oct. 24 when college dean Lynne Bongiovanni detailed plans for the remainder of the semester, including in-person final exams.

So what changed?

The governor, according to Bongiovanni. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has encouraged schools to consider returning to remote learning as coronavirus cases start to rise again in the state. The governor said SUNY colleges would test their students for COVID-19 before leaving campus, and that students would remain home for the rest of the semester.

Bongiovanni told Mount students they had to vacate residence halls by Friday unless they requested extra time to move out — or submitted a request to remain there for the rest of the semester. 

The letter also encouraged students to get tested for the coronavirus before leaving campus. That’s because there was a recent uptick in cases at The Mount’s North Riverdale campus. According to the college’s COVID-19 online dashboard, 23 students and three employees tested positive for the coronavirus since the first day of classes at the beginning of September. However, nearly two-thirds of those cases were tracked between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11.

That has shifted the last few weeks of classes online as well as final exams.

That worries Ana Mota. The sophomore took final exams remotely last semester, and isn’t looking for a repeat performance this semester.

“Teachers, I feel, are less intense when we’re in person,” Mota said. “Online, the teachers worry about cheating and open book and stuff like that. So their tests are really hard.”

Like many students, Mota works in a hospital in addition to taking classes. And sometimes, while learning and taking tests remotely, life can get in the way. Because while distractions are few and far between in a classroom, they’re par for the course where she works.

“They assume that we’re all home, so they can assign 10 times more work, but that’s not the case,” Mota said. “I remember last time, when the pandemic was going crazy, I would literally work on my essays at the hospital. And then when a patient would start coding, I’d come out, do the code, and then come back in to finish the essay.”

But one obstacle Mota didn’t face with the sudden announcement was having to move out of a dorm room — she commutes to campus for her classes. Jessica Haas, however, isn’t so lucky, having to start her moving-out process much sooner than expected. And while this move-out was a bit sudden for her liking, it was preferable to last semester’s rush to leave campus.

“Compared to the last time this happened, and you only had a day to leave campus … a week in advance was better for moving out,” Haas said. “But at the same time, it did make me more nervous to stay there until I was able to leave.”

While this sudden exodus from campus might feel like whiplash from last March, Haas believes the college is making the right decision.

“I had heard about a few cases over the weekend, so I was starting to get nervous about being” in-person, Haas said. “From what Gov. Cuomo had told them — and from the amount of cases that we heard the school might have had — I think they made the right call to send us all home.”

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