HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The spring semester is underway at Marshall University and President Jerome Gilbert couldn’t be happier with having students back on campus, even if it is significantly less population due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freshman, graduate students and those students in labs and clinical studies, around 25% of the normal density of campus, began in-person courses Tuesday in Huntington while the rest of the students enrolled for the term started virtually.
“It is great to see the students back. It is positive, the students have a great attitude. The campus is alive again,” Gilbert told MetroNews Wednesday.
“Without the students, it’s not quite the same. I am delighted to have our students back.”
Students began moving back onto campus Friday in a phased-in period that went to Monday. Each student was tested for COVID-19 upon return and according to Gilbert those tests, done by PCR based saliva, are completed.
Gilbert reported that Marshall is seeing a similar rate of infection to the fall, which hovered between 2.5% and 3%.
“We are seeing about the same rate of infection. That could go up as the test results come back. We are seeing up to a 2.5% infection rate, which remains fairly low,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said next week Marshall will begin testing those students coming in for labs and clinical work. Nearly two dozen students are currently in isolation at the university’s ‘quarantine facility’ Holderby Hall due to testing positive or being apart of contact tracing. Last semester, there were around 300 virus cases on campus.
Students in nursing are helping the Cabell-Huntington Health Department with COVID-19 vaccine distribution on campus, Gilbert noted. Those students are among the first after staff to receive doses themselves.
As of Wednesday, Gilbert said Marshall has vaccinated 598 employees and will give doses to another 150 on Thursday. He said out of the 1,800 employees in Huntington, more than 1,700 want a vaccine. Next week Marshall will begin giving second doses to those staff members who received the Moderna vaccine the last week of 2020.
The distribution for staff members began with those 65 years of age and older with comorbidities then everyone else 65 years old and above. Individuals 50 years of age and older with comorbidities were next, followed by anyone else 50 and above.
Gilbert said staff is being protected in the classrooms at Marshall with class sizes being cut in half and plexiglass in most offices and classrooms. Masks also remain required in all buildings at Marshall and students must use a health app daily.
By cutting class sizes in half, a hybrid model of learning continues. For example, if a course has 60 freshman enrolled, 30 students will receive in-person instruction at once and 30 will watch the same lecture virtually. The groups of 30 will rotate instruction daily.
Marshall will proceed with a normal grading mode in the spring. There was a 10-15% decline in freshman enrollment from the fall to spring but Gilbert said that is a normal rate.
Gilbert is planning to host an in-person spring commencement at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on May 1, something that could not be done in December. The university is welcoming any graduates who missed an opportunity to walk the stage because of the pandemic to do so this spring, should the event remain on as scheduled.
“We had to be adaptive, we had to be patient and we had to persevere,” Gilbert said of the plans put into place. “It’s been a long run, it’s been almost a year now. Going into March is when we started all of this a year ago.”
— Marshall University (@marshallu) January 19, 2021