The state of COVID-19 at Belmont University
For the third semester in a row, Belmont University is taking precautions against COVID-19, and students returning to classes Wednesday will be met with a few familiar protocols and a few new ones.
Unlike last semester, Belmont is allowing larger gatherings and visitation once again; dorms are back to full capacity and face masks are only required to be worn inside.
“I’m anxious about being sure that we keep everyone safe and that we have a really good year for teaching and learning,” said university president Dr. L. Gregory Jones. “That requires balancing a lot of factors, but we are going to do everything we can to try to ensure that everyone has a healthy environment.”
Among the biggest changes to the university’s health and safety protocols is the discontinuation of on-campus quarantine.
With campus dorms at 100% capacity and the end of the quarantine food delivery service that was provided last year, students will have to make their own arrangements to quarantine off campus.
“We realize the campus is more populated than it was last semester,” said Krystal Huesmann, director of Health Services. She recommends that all residential students have a plan in place in case they have to quarantine. This could mean driving home, renting an AirBnB or staying with a friend off-campus.
Whether living on or off campus, students who are unvaccinated are required to fill out the daily COVID-19 symptom tracker used in past semesters, while those who have received the vaccine only need to fill it out if they have symptoms.
Though the university is not mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, is it strongly encouraging all students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated — and it is possible to do so right on campus.
Vaccine appointments are available in health services from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. all week, and will continue to be offered by appointment every Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The university has both the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines available.
“We will find a way to vaccinate everyone who wants to be vaccinated on campus,” said Huesmann.
Huesmann hopes that Monday’s full FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will help ease the minds of anyone hesitant to get vaccinated. She added that anyone nervous about getting the shot is welcome to come speak with a Health Services nurse about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Although being vaccinated has been proven to lower a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19, breakthrough infections are still possible, and precautions are still being taken on campus.
“Some people who are vaccinated may still need to get tested,” Huesmann said.
The university has changed how it will test people for COVID-19 — including for the more contagious delta variant — this semester.
Those who are symptomatic can get a rapid test at health services using a PCR machine recently purchased by the university. Huesmann said that those getting the free PCR test will receive their results in 45 minutes to one hour.
For those that aren’t symptomatic, home test kits will be available for free through the Belmont pharmacy. Once the test is completed, the kit can be dropped off at UPS and sent for lab testing.
As Belmont enters another academic year contending with COVID-19, the continued diligence of students, faculty staff will play a part in keeping the pandemic at bay for another semester.
When it comes to keeping the campus safe, Belmont’s upper administration is taking things day by day, said Jones.
“The best way we can be sure we have a great year is when everybody is being prudent and careful,” he said. “We want this to be as normal a year as possible given the constraints we are facing, and I’m hoping that we’ll all pitch in together.”
This article was written by Sarah Maninger and Anna Jackson.