HOLLAND, Mich. — Staff and students returned Monday to in-person classes at Hope College.
The semester began earlier than usual this year in order to try and further limit the spread of COVID.
Classes will now end prior to a typical Thanksgiving break period, so students won't be traveling for the holiday and then returning to campus.
“The feeling is overwhelmingly positive... maybe things are not ideal and maybe things are not normal, but people are excited to be here and excited to be back in-person,” Hope College President Matthew Scoglin said Monday afternoon. “We’ve opened in the middle of the Civil War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession. We’ve never quite opened in the middle of anything like this.”
President Scogin says they would not have been able to make the return if it wasn't for major efforts taken by staff over the summer months.
“Obviously, we’re wearing masks, we're staying six feet apart, we've thinned density in our residence halls a little bit, we've taken new precautions in dining halls, a lot of things around health habits that we’ve done,” Scogin said.
Beyond changing the habits of staff and students, the school has developed a comprehensive testing program that everyone on campus must follow.
"There is a baseline test before everyone arrived on campus, and there is a daily surveillance test we’re doing," Scogin said.
And thanks to several faculty chemistry professors, the college is also able to monitor for the presence of COVID in water coming out of resident halls on campus.
"We have a wastewater surveillance program where we're monitoring water coming out of residents halls and residential zones,” Scogin said, "and that allows us to detect the presence of COVID in a residence hall or residential hall. If we detect it, we’ll test everyone living in that area."
He said that the vast majority of students have said they prefer in-person classes over online learning.
“This may be a bit counter-intuitive, but we actually believe it's safer to have our students on campus participating in our safety and health requirements, participating in our health program," Scogin said.
If anyone decides they would be more comfortable not returning to campus, the college is making online classes an available option.
“We have enough classes online to where they can stay on track for their planned graduation day. Same thing with faculty or staff who have specific concerns, we’re taking care of them,” President Scogin said. “We are a people of hope. That's our name, and we try to take a hopeful outlook on everything.”