W. MI colleges push forward with in-person classes

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As large universities have recently announced a shift to online-only learning, schools in West Michigan are preparing to welcome students back for in-person learning in a new way.

Officials are making these preparations in the hopes they can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Wednesday marked day two of move-in for students at Cornerstone University. School officials says they welcomed about 150 students both days.

“I’m worried, as I should be, as a parent. I’m always worried but a little more worried than normal,” said Jamia Allen as she helped her junior student move-in Wednesday morning.

“We recognize that it is a very unique situation, and so our expectation is that we would journey this together and support one another through it,” said Peter Osborn, executive vice president and chief operations officer of the university.

Osborn says the university added more sections to cut all classes to 50% capacity. He says the school only has two lecture halls that seat more than 100 students. Those class sizes will now only have about 40 students. Smaller classes have been cut back to about 12 students.

The university is offering a 100% online option for students who did not feel comfortable learning in person.

Cornerstone is also requiring masks in all common spaces and has added signage to remind students to social distance.

The school opted out of testing students and faculty before allowing them on campus but it will be watching for positive cases closely.

Officials say there isn’t a specific number of positive cases that would shut the university down.

“It’s unrealistic to think that there will not be cases, that there will not be students who have symptoms. There will be faculty that will have symptoms and even test positive. That will be a part of this journey and really in our preparation, we have anticipated that,” Osborn said. “We have a quarantine protocol. We have an isolation protocol.”

Grand Valley State University is also planning to welcome students back to campus soon. Its current plan is to put only one student in dorm rooms meant for two people. GVSU will also cut down class sizes and masks will be a requirement.

Western Michigan University is planning to move forward with in person learning too.

The school’s safe return plan requires masks in indoor and outdoor spaces where social distancing is not an option. The plans also mentions intensified cleaning and encourage all students and staff to get tested for COVID-19 before returning.

“Given that our focus is on the health and safety of our community, we have consistently made decisions based on practices recommended by health professionals, the data about conditions on our campus and in our area, and government regulations. We will continue to do so,” said a university spokesperson in a statement.”As the pandemic is ever-changing, we are prepared to, and will, adapt accordingly. Based on these factors, we are continuing to implement our safe return plan.”

Students at Hope College in Holland began classes on Monday. The college says it has already seen a few dozen cases.

The school sent home pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for some 4,000 students. Of those tests, they received positive results for 38 students. Officials say that accounts for less than 1% of their population, which is well below numbers at the state level.

“Our goal was to identify them early on so that when we started on Monday, we would have a baseline of zero. Really our plan was to plan and prepare for positive cases knowing that would be the case,” said Jennifer Fellinger, spokesperson for Hope College.

Fellinger says the college has quarantine spaces and resources available for the students who test positive or show symptoms. She says out of the 38 cases they detected, the majority were identified before students made it to campus. She says those students are isolating at home.

Hope College will also require masks, encourage hand washing and ask students to social distance.

Additionally, the school says they will test 1% of their population for COVID-19 every day at random. They plan to do wastewater testing as well.

“We’ve identified different residential zones on campus, and they will be selected randomly, and we can keep our finger on the pulse of those positive cases,” said Fellinger.

Parents say they wish their students’ good health and success.

“I think that the plan that I’ve heard so far is going to keep them safe, I think. But I can only hope for the best and pray,” Allen said.

All four schools say if there is a severe outbreak, they have plans in place to pivot to online-only learning.