Seton Hall will again reopen for Hybrid Flexible or “HyFlex” instruction in January, according to an email on Thursday from the Health Information Communication Team (HICT) that outlined testing and quarantine protocols for the spring semester.
The clarified plans come two months after the University initially announced its intention to continue the HyFlex modality into the spring.
Resident students returning to campus from outside of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware will be required to quarantine for 10 days in their rooms upon arrival. This marks a departure from the fall semester protocols, which required students from certain states to quarantine in dedicated quarantine housing before moving into their regular dorms.
Students returning to campus from states outside of the northeast will have to arrive on campus on Jan. 15 to meet the quarantine guidelines. Residents in quarantine will be able to access campus services, but will not be allowed to leave campus until Jan. 25, according to the email.
Residents arriving on campus from within the region will be able to check into residence halls on Jan. 22, three days before the quarantine period for students from outside the region ends.
All residents will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result from a test taken within five days before moving in, the email said. This is another change from the fall semester, when saliva tests were administered on-campus to all residents upon their arrival.
“Due to the need for the test to be completed and results received no more than 5 days prior to arrival on campus, we encourage you to consider taking a rapid test,” the email said.
Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 produce faster results than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, but are less accurate, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Antigen tests usually provide results diagnosing an active coronavirus infection faster than molecular [PCR] tests, but antigen tests have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” The FDA’s website says. “If an antigen test shows a negative result indicating that you do not have an active coronavirus infection, your health care provider may order a [PCR] test to confirm the result.”
It is currently unclear what the protocol will be for students whose test results do not come back within the five-day window.
Residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the 90 days before move-in will not have to get tested again, but will have to provide Health Services evidence of their positive test result.
Any student who tests positive for COVID-19 before coming to campus must remain at home for 10 days after testing positive.
Health Services, in addition to testing athletes, students in health care clinicals, and student-teachers who require testing, will offer tests to “students with concerns that they are symptomatic and who ask for a level of reassurance when not feeling well, and those who request a test because they are returning home and have concerns about bringing COVID-19 home to their family,” the email said.
Health Services will also continue its random surveillance testing of residents, according to the email.
Like the fall semester, commuters will not have to get tested before coming to campus — which virologist Brian Nichols, an associate professor of biology at Seton Hall who has studied coronaviruses in the past called “a flaw which creates unacceptable risk” in an August interview.
Health Services will, however, continue to provide surveillance testing for non-residents who ask for it, and will test students up to once per week, according to the HICT email.
In order to prevent students from travelling mid-semester, the HICT email said there would not be a “traditional spring break,” mirroring last semester’s schedule without fall break.
Classes will still be cancelled from Holy Thursday on April 1, until April 6, the Tuesday after Easter.
Many other schools have built days off into their schedules, citing burnout and increased stress on students during the pandemic. It is unclear if Seton Hall has any plans to adjust their Spring 2021 calendar similarly.
Other schools in the area, such as Monmouth University, have cancelled classes on specific days in March and April, while other Big East Catholic schools like Providence College, Villanova and Marquette have created “working breaks” and “mental health days” in lieu of spring break.
The reopening plan is subject to change if New Jersey state guidelines are altered, according to the HICT email.
While New Jersey’s state guidelines allow for hybrid learning, the plan comes just after the Departments of Health and Education in Pennsylvania “strongly encouraged” colleges and universities to delay in-person instruction, citing projections that COVID-19 infections will increase in January.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and these trends are expected to worsen in January at the time when students normally return to campus,” Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said in a press release on Wednesday. “By delaying students' return to campus, our institutions of higher learning can help slow the spread of the virus, help businesses to remain open, and protect regional health care systems.”
The HICT acknowledged that they “may need to amend” the plan during the semester.
“The HICT continues to meet weekly, monitoring the ever-changing path of the virus, University and public health statistics, and government guidance,” the email said. “Your health and safety remain paramount in Seton Hall’s planning and actions.”
Daniel O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @ItsDanOConnor.