When Farmingdale State College senior Jasmine Brown remembers her first year, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic started, it glows like Technicolor – before the screen dims to gray.
“Oh, the first year was amazing – it was almost like you see in the movies, where you meet people and hang out with them all the time, get new memories and friendships,” said Brown, 21, a major in mechanical engineering and technology. from Freeport, and a college principal who helped younger students through the toughest times of the pandemic.
What to know
After largely remote intervals this month, several Long Island colleges and universities chose to postpone the spring semester hours or start with a week of distance learning or less.
Most of the schools offer some remote and hybrid (a mix of personal and remote) opportunities for courses and activities, but the majority of classes will be personal.
Most higher education institutions have a mandate vaccinations and boosters, indoor masks and continued or intensified routine and monitoring COVID-19 tests for students and staff.
Last fall, she said, the campus opened up a bit, the dormitories were fuller, and the ghostly isolation from the previous year had been lifted.
“Compared to my first year as 100% of the university experience, I would say the fall of 2021 was 75%,” she said. “I’m still very nervous because we have not been given any words about how the spring semester is going to go, but I’m crossing my fingers … I want an exam.”
Administrators at colleges and universities on Long Island are also crossing their fingers and planning a spring semester face-to-face, with guarded optimism that the current national wave of COVID-19 infections from the highly contagious omicron variant will soon ebb.
Schools said they will maintain – or escalate – protocols that kept infection rates relatively low on campuses last fall. Most now require vaccinations with a booster, and will maintain or increase the pace of COVID-19 testing.
But spring holidays and sporting events are still on the calendar, clubs will meet both in person and virtually, and spectators who were originally excluded from some indoor campus gyms may soon be allowed to return.
Most campuses will cut the length of time spent in COVID-19 isolation or quarantine to five days in accordance with new federal and state guidelines.
“We have had people ask if we are planning to move remotely. We do not,” said Farmingdale State President John S. Nader. “My feeling is that students would very much like to be personal to the extent possible. … We hope omicron disappears quickly.”
The college has had a contingency plan in place since the fall to divide classes into changing sections of personal and distance learning to keep class sizes low.
Adelphi University in Garden City announced Thursday that it would reopen in person on Jan. 25 with an option for faculty to switch to short-term distance learning at least through Feb. 7 and accommodation for students in isolation or quarantine.
The school will also maintain 10-day isolation and quarantine periods instead of complying with the new guidelines and increasing the routine test, including 10% of students each week in a monitoring program that had been eased in the fall. Indoor capacity limits are left in place and many employees will go the distance.
“We do everything we can to return to our traditional experience on earth, but do it in a way to offer the safest possible experience,” said Dr. KC Rondello, clinical associate professor at the College of Nursing and Public Health in Adelphi. “Omicron has been a challenge for that.”
But, he said, the picture could change rapidly over the following weeks, and he expressed optimism that the rise in cases could fall rapidly, as it has done in countries such as South Africa and the UK.
Decisions on how to respond to the recent increase are made campus by campus, with some routinely relying on a significant number of online courses.
To take the ‘wait-and-see’ approach
At Molloy College in Rockville Center, where students are already taking 23% of tuition online and 7% in hybrid – both in person and externally – tuition was delayed for a few days and it will be “wait-and-see” for the foreseeable future, said Dr. Janine Biscari, Vice President of Student Affairs. But the plan is to quickly return to a more open campus.
“The concept of COVID fatigue, Zoom fatigue is pretty real,” she said. “The plan is to return in full swing with personal classes and events this spring.”
Five Towns College in Dix Hills postponed its start to the semester from January 10 to January 31, where it expects all of them on campus to be both vaccinated and boosted.
Hofstra University in Hempstead is planning a personal semester, with most classes starting Jan. 31 with a mask and booster mandate, monitoring tests and “constant advice from our partners at Northwell Health,” said Melissa Connolly, vice president of university relations.
Stony Brook University will open without further remote instruction or restriction of activities in addition to some food safety measures and mask and booster mandates. Deans of the Renaissance School of Medicine rejected requests from students for distance learning as positive cases rose among staff at Stony Brook Medicine.
At the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, a specialized school that provides a dual degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, students must work together. With an enrollment of only 105, the school was COVID-19-free until three cases surfaced after Thanksgiving in November.
There is no vaccine mandate, but 100% of students are vaccinated, said school president R. Keith Michel. “We have a strong code of honor here, and students generally abide by it,” he said. “We’re asking them to limit off-campus travel, and as a result, we’ve been personal all along.”
He added: “The Omicron tribe has changed the equation. We recognize that students will be infected,” especially when in practice around the world. Before returning on February 28, they will be tested, isolated, if positive, and take lessons virtually in the first week. While masks and social distance will be in place during the second week, then, “we hope to be able to allow them to take their masks off in the classroom.”
At St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, where students commute to classes, they have not called with concerns about returning, said CEO Eileen Jahn. The first few days will be remote and resume in person on January 24th.
“I have a feeling we will enter the spring semester with more caution than we will leave it,” she said, noting that spectators at sporting events are temporarily barred, but that she hoped conditions would improve. “I do not get many letters from people who are nervous about coming back. I think people develop a tolerance – they know they were safe in the fall.”
Several classes will be personal this spring at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, up to 75% to 80%, versus 62% remote or hybrid last fall, said Joseph Posillico, vice president of enrollment management.
“But we are ready to switch with a moment’s notice if we have to. We would just switch in-person classes to hybrid or remote if the infection rate increased.”
New York Tech Assistant Provost Tiffani Blake said some security measures introduced during the pandemic would continue, such as opportunities for virtual club meetings that made them more accessible and widely attended.
Meanwhile, John Lopes, 19, of Old Westbury, switched last fall as a sophomore to the LIU Post in Brookville after a year at home when his first school in Pennsylvania became largely remote. He was happy with the experience and is moving to a college for the spring semester where he will be on the crew team and the school newspaper.
He was given COVID-19 for the second time despite being vaccinated, he said, but is not so worried about it now.
“People will get it or not get it, but the school will still remain open,” Lopes said.