Some students decide to stay on campus through holiday

Students wear face coverings walking on Bucknell University's Malesardi Quad this fall.

Susquehanna University junior Devonne Tourre is one of 50 students remaining on campus next week and through the Thanksgiving break.

"I'm staying because I need to work," said Tourre, who has a job at a local restaurant. 

Besides, the junior from Maryland said, "I'm more comfortable here. I have my own apartment and a kitchen. A couple of friends are staying, too."

In all, 65 Susquehanna students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 3 and most have recovered. As of Friday, there were still 24 active cases, including 21 students and three employees, according to the school website.

All of the students who tested positive have completed their isolation period and returned home, Susquehanna University spokeswoman Amanda O'Rourke said.

Eleven students are quarantined on campus but will be allowed to return home before or on Thanksgiving Day.

Fifty students registered to live on campus through the holiday and into early December. 

"Most will return home at the conclusion of the fall semester (Dec. 13). Thirteen students will remain on campus until the beginning of the spring semester," O'Rourke said.

Tourre has been tested four times this year and has not tested positive for the virus or come into contact with anyone who has fallen ill, he said. 

At Bucknell University, fewer than 100 students will remain on campus during the winter break. University spokesman Mike Ferlazzo said many of them are international students who are unable to travel outside the U.S. amid the pandemic.

There have been a total of 71 postive cases among Bucknell's student and staff population, with 13 active cases as of Friday, according to the school website.

Nearly 3,400 students chose to attend Bucknell in-person for the start of the 2020-21 fall semester on Aug. 17, with 300 students deciding to study remotely.

It may have been the most unusual on-campus experience the university has seen due to required regular testing and behavioral public safety measures, but students appreciated the opportunity to be back on campus, says Wilder Brice, a junior and president of the Student Government.

“The ability to remain on campus for the entire semester is certainly a privilege right now,” Brice said. “Many students prefer the classroom environment and are grateful for the opportunity to be in a classroom. Considering the time we spent remote in the spring semester of 2020, I think we feel lucky to be able to return to the classroom.”

Both universities implemented aggressive testing measures, including testing wastewater for signs of the virus and requiring two negative tests from students before arrival on campus and frequent tests of students and staff members during the semester.

“Having two negative test results before you could move in along with the suggestion that people self-quarantine at home, I think, was a big part of our initial success,” Bucknell President John Bravman said. “Of course our periodic testing was part of it, too. A lot of schools opted to do symptomatic testing only; Bucknell did full-blown, full-population testing on a periodic basis.”

The students who largely honored the safety precautions were cited by Bucknell as the key in a successful semester.

"The student body has proven to me to be responsible, thoughtful and understanding of the severity of the health crises we are in,” said Brice. “It’s astonishing to me the level of maturity shown over the fall semester. I think it speaks to the incredible connection students have to the university.”

"From our beginning planning, our biggest concern was having buy-in on campus for herd health," said Dr. Catherine O'Neil, medical director of Bucknell Student Health.

Faculty also stepped up and learned how to adapt teaching models to serve students learning in-person and online.

“We are a residential university. We are a living and learning community and we had to rethink everything about how we go about doing business,” says Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak. “That process started in May. It was enormously challenging. Nobody had done this before. I’m really impressed with how the community came together to make this work, and I’m very proud of the fact that we’re still here at the end of the semester.”

Bucknell plans to welcome students back on campus Feb. 1. Susquehanna plans to resume in-person classes on Jan. 25.

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