• Lillie Burke

COVID-19: Belmont’s year in review

After 13 months of coronavirus testing and social distancing, Belmont is beginning to rebound from the unprecedented effects of COVID-19.

Since campus reopened for hybrid learning in early September, Belmont reported 820 positive cases among students, faculty and staff. This includes a spike in cases in the weeks following the presidential debate in October and an all-time-high 82 new cases over midterms.

After mass vaccinations began in earnest in March 2021, Belmont has reported only 14 positive COVID-19 cases, which is aligned promisingly with decreases in cases across the state.

But COVID-19 at Belmont has come a long way since March 2020.

In the first semester affected by COVID-19 back in spring 2020, the university chose to extend spring break, send students home early for virtual, and delay move-in and in-person learning until September.

After an uncertain summer break, students were met with instructions stating that everyone must wear a mask at all times on campus as well as maintain a social distance both in buildings and outside.

The university also chose to abbreviate the fall semester so students would begin winter break at Thanksgiving.

When everyone returned in January, cases spiked again but returned to a manageable number in the following weeks.

At the start of the spring semester, however, the university implemented its sentinel testing program, which offered COVID-19 testing to students, faculty and staff who were asymptomatic. This allowed people to ensure they were COVID-negative each week before attending class.

COVID-19 tests are still available on a daily basis throughout the city.

During midterms, the university’s reported cases rose dramatically, leading some students to wonder if Belmont should go online for the remainder of the semester. President Fisher sent an email to students saying that the university was in no position to loosen restrictions at that time, reaffirming the school’s commitment to keeping students, faculty and staff safe. This spike occurred as cases around Tennessee began to decline.

On March 30, Belmont announced that it had received 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In the following weeks, Health Services was able to vaccinate over 1,000 students, faculty and staff at on-campus clinics

Although federal agencies have recommended a pause in the rollout of the J&J vaccine, everyone age 16 and older is available to get vaccinated in Tennessee and receive doses of either Moderna or Pfizer at an off-campus location. As of April 18, almost 1.4 million people in Tennessee are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data.

On April 6, President Fisher sent an email announcing tentative reopening plans for the fall semester. Barring a spike in cases or word from Metro Health, it’s likely that classes will return to full or near-full capacity. Belmont will see a “more robust campus life experience,” the email said, with the return of on campus activities and, hopefully, a traditional fall semester schedule that includes the usual holiday breaks.

Students will get their fall break Oct. 18-19 and return home for winter break Dec. 14 instead of at Thanksgiving.

Though plans could change, there is hope that campus in the fall will look a lot more like the Belmont of old, and it seems that the university will likely be saying farewell to the strict COVID-19 protocols students have come to know.

The Belmont Vision will be reporting on all news related to COVID-19 over the summer.

This article was written by Sarah Maninger and Anna Jackson. Updated Monday afternoon to reflect the numbers in Belmont’s April 19 COVID-19 report.

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