Tulane’s Response to COVID-19 and Coming Back to School

By Anusha Rainey

As New Orleans tries to safely get back to normal, one university thus far has not disappointed in its coming back. Tulane University reopened in August, but unlike many schools in the country, Tulane has continued to stay open. Much of this has to do with the school’s rigorous testing on campus. Along with their quarantine zones, limited class space, and other safety measures, Tulane has remained open. However, many people in the Tulane community are concerned about off-campus partying. As of October first, the school has confirmed 194 positive cases, though the recent cumulative positive COVID test results so far is 1260 for both students and employees according to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

One student has confidence in the school’s opening plan. “Tulane is one of the nation’s leaders in epidemiology through our School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine,” says Rachel Corley, a sophmore from Simi Valley, California. When asked why she decided to come back to New Orleans, she said, “I decided to come back to campus because I wanted the option of taking in-person classes, especially as I am in a couple of lab classes which are really hard to do online.”  

One teacher appears less optimistic. Eugenia Rainey is a grad-student teaching a few classes this semester at Tulane and Loyola University. She had doubts since the beginning, “But I thought this would be done in a week, and we’re on week three now for Tulane…” As of November 18th, 2020, it’s been about three months and a week. But she says the amount of students quarantining is still rising. “I don’t know, we’ll see, we’ll see,” she says. 

Lady Dickerson, a library worker at Tulane, says her first day back to work felt safe, and she seems to have confidence in the school. “So, I still have a certain amount of anxiety no matter what you put in place … But I’m sure I’m safer than most places.”

“The school has put in place various safety measures,” Ms. Rainey says. “They have socially distanced the classroom so that when you walk into the classroom there is a spot for each desk which is the designated amount of space between that desk and the next desk, and each classroom has a capacity, you know like socially distanced, 12 people can fit in this classroom, and that’s students, it’s assumed that the professor is already a given. There’s plexiglass between the podium and the desks. They’ve given us [teachers] two masks and a plastic shield to put over our faces, and a fanny pack with disposable mask and alcohol wipes…it’s a little supply packet. Also, there’s wipes all around campus and antibacterial wash around campus. All the graduate students, the ones that teach, and faculty, I’m sure, have all been given their own hand sanitizer and wipes as well, in addition to the mask and the screens and the fanny packs.” Lady Dickerson seconds these measures, and says, “They mandated that everybody is supposed to wear a mask.” 

For learning, Rainey says, “Students who have been quarantined or the student is not feeling well that day and then they’ll attend the class via Zoom, so in the classroom there are cameras in the back and in the front of the classroom, so the students can see me and so they can see their fellow students, and there is a monitor in the back of the classroom where all the students who are on Zoom appear…They have document cameras on to use because it’s hard for students on Zoom to see the white board in the classroom… there’s microphones in the rooms, all around the rooms, so over every desk there’s a microphone, so that students in the classroom, when they talk, the students on Zoom can hear them.” Teachers are also not allowed to have in-person office hours. Rachel Corley seconds with, “I have a mix of in-person, online, and hybrid classes. For example, one of my classes that meets three days a week has one-third of the students in the class come in each day, while the other two-thirds come via Zoom. All of my in-person classes have Zoom as an option for students who can’t come in person because they chose not to come back or they are in quarantine/isolation.” Lady Dickerson says the staff are tested once a month, which may have increased due to the recent rise in cases on campus. 

“As for the dorms,” Rachel Corley says, “Tulane has put in place pretty strict rules, so you are not allowed to visit any of the other dorms, you can only enter the dorm you are resident of. Additionally, they put restrictions on the number of people allowed in the common rooms at one time, and we are only allowed to have one guest per person per room at a time (and this person has to also live in the dorm, you can’t use this policy to bring in someone from another residence hall). Masks are required everywhere on campus except for in your room.”

Despite all these measures, plenty of anxiety is still to be had. “I’m gonna have a certain amount of angst because of my AIDs.” says Lady Dickerson, “I’m not, you know, a really sick person, but with COVID it doesn’t really take for you to be really sick and because I’ve seen what I’ve seen with friends and relatives who unfortunately some [have] succumb from the COVID, and others, you know, had the virus, and thank god they overcame it.” She goes on to say, “I was a little worried at first. Especially because young people are gonna young [be] people, they’re in New Orleans, they want to get the full effect of their college experience…. But from what I’ve seen as far as on a daily basis in the capacity of my job, everything looks fine, but there’s still that underlying factor that I’m not able to see.”  Rachel Corley seconds this. “My main source of anxiety comes from the off-campus parties/get-togethers. Frat parties aren’t allowed, but that doesn’t mean underground parties don’t happen… You never know who you may come in contact with while walking around campus. That being said, wearing masks helps alleviate this fear for the most part.”  

The mask can be overwhelming, but “…I’d rather be alive wearing the mask, than dead and not,” says Lady Dickerson. Rachel Corley seems to agree, “I really don’t mind wearing a mask. The only time it bothers me is when my glasses fog up, but I have found a couple of masks where this isn’t as bad.”

For Lady Dickerson, it’s a mind-over-matter issue. “I try to take it from the aspect that I need this to keep myself safe and other people as well… what pushes and drives me to do it even more is  the stories of people who have experienced the virus first-hand,” she says.  Dickerson says that once she was in the position where she had to wear the mask, it really wasn’t that bad.

“From now until eternity, that could be a different question. At some point I would like to let that thing go.” she says. One day, hopefully, we will all be able to let that mask go.

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