Here are the facts regarding the College’s COVID-19 planning processes, protocols, and communication with employees as well as how the College is operating at this time:
Planning and Communication
Planning process: President McCormick established a Return to Campus (RTC) Task Force in May 2020 under the leadership of Don Drost (Executive Director, Facilities Management), which included representation from all unions. That group met regularly throughout the summer of 2020 and issued a report that was used to inform the development of a Return to Campus document (“plan”) required by the NJ Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) as well as COVID-19 protocols and operating plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. The RTC Task Force has reconvened and met on an as-needed basis since that time, as recently as this past summer (2021).
Communication to employees and students: The College’s OSHE-mandated RTC plan was posted to the College website until recently when it was archived as OSHE no longer requires that plan to be updated. College administration developed two sets of FAQs about College operations and COVID-19 protocols: one for employees and another for students. The employee FAQs were posted to InfoNet (the College’s internal intranet for employees) in mid-August. The student FAQs were shared with students via e-mail.
Current COVID-19 Protocols
Vaccine mandate: As José Laureano (Executive Dean, Student and Enrollment Services) announced recently to students via e-mail, the College is moving towards a vaccine mandate for employees and students – to become effective for employees later this Fall and for students with the beginning of the Spring semester in January. The plans for a vaccine mandate are similar to what other NJ community colleges are now considering as well as what both the federal and NJ state governments are doing.
Indoor masking: Unlike most of the community colleges in NJ, Middlesex College did not lift the indoor masking requirement when the Governor lifted the restriction in June. Members of the College’s RTC Task Force recommended maintaining the indoor masking requirement.
COVID-19 screening of students: Screening of students in on-campus courses for COVID-19 symptoms was suspended this past summer after the Governor’s Executive Order was issued but has been reinstated for the Fall semester. Employees and students were made aware of this requirement.
COVID-19 testing of students: On-campus COVID-19 testing of most students is not required at this time. Students who are required to engage in clinical instruction at off-campus sites (such as in the Nursing, Dental Hygiene, and Radiography programs) are required to follow the mandates at the clinical site including, in many instances, to be fully vaccinated or apply and be approved for an exemption from the host institution and then undergo regular testing.
Social distancing: Social distancing is no longer required by the State; nonetheless, the College encourages social distancing when possible. Plexiglas barriers are still in place in student-facing service areas, and the College’s Facilities team created 35 desktop Plexiglas barriers for instructors who want to use them in the classroom.
Indoor air quality – HEPA filters: A HEPA filter is not required or even recommended for regular classrooms. Even during the 2020-2021 academic year, when only a small percentage of courses were offered on campus, HEPA filters were put in place only in the spaces where students were required to engage in activities that could not be done while social distancing such as lab classrooms for courses in Dental Hygiene, Radiography, and Culinary Arts. HEPA filters are still in place in labs where close contact among students and instructors cannot be avoided.
Indoor air quality – building air filters: The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not recommend the installation of MERV-16 filters, rather OSHA recommends that employers ensure that existing HVAC systems are used in accordance with the HVAC manufacturers’ instructions and specifications. In addition, OSHA recommends that employers maximize intake of outside air, use air filters rated MERV-13 or higher where required and compatible with HVAC systems, maintain and replace filters, and ensure that intake ports are clear of debris, all of which College Facilities staff have been doing and will continue to do. The filters have been updated to MERV-13 in all buildings on campus where that level of filter is compatible with HVAC systems. Note that the higher the MERV rating the less air flow through the filter, so it is actually counterproductive to have a MERV-16 filter in a system that was not designed for it. The College has also followed all recommendations regarding the improvement of indoor air quality from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Sanitation: Sanitation after every use of a classroom is no longer recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That guidance was updated by the CDC in June to a recommendation of sanitation on a daily basis: “Cleaning high-touch surfaces and shared objects once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces unless someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 has been in your facility.”
Point person for questions and assistance: Employees and students are directed in communications about COVID-19 protocols to a Middlesex College COVID-19 reporting e-mail address for assistance or to report issues. All inquiries are responded to in a prompt manner.
Contact tracing: Contact tracing has been occurring efficiently for over a year, with support from the Middlesex County Office of Health Services when needed. The College’s Human Resources staff have been doing this when employees report positive tests, and the College’s Office of Health and Safety has managed the process for students.
Fall Semester Academic Instruction
Faculty autonomy over teaching: Faculty have autonomy over curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom management. The employee FAQs provide suggestions for handling situations such as students who do not wear their masks properly. In addition, at the Academic Affairs Convocation on August 30, 2021, Police Chief Neil Brosnan shared information about what to do if a student or visitor to campus refuses to wear a mask indoors. The faculty do not have autonomy over the modality of instruction (i.e., how a particular course section is delivered: in person, online, or remote live). Full-time faculty members are assigned courses to teach based on the input they provide to their Department Chair and the needs of the College and students as determined by Academic Affairs administrators (Vice President for Academic Affairs, Deans, and Department Chairs). Faculty have never been free to change the modality of instruction for an assigned course section without permission. The College of course shifted the modality of all in-person courses in the Spring 2020 semester to remote live as required by Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders.
What other NJ community colleges are doing:
Six of the 18 NJ community colleges have fewer than 50% of courses scheduled in person this semester (including Middlesex College at around 40%).
Four of the 18 NJ community colleges have between 51%-60% of courses scheduled in person this semester (including neighboring Brookdale Community College and Union County College).
Five of the 18 NJ community colleges have between 61%-79% of courses scheduled in person this semester (including neighboring Mercer County Community College).
Three of the 18 NJ community colleges have 80% or more of courses scheduled in person this semester (including neighboring Raritan Valley Community College).
Five other NJ community colleges (in addition to Middlesex College) are requiring that full-time faculty teach at least two course sections and at least two days per week on campus this semester.
The majority of the other NJ community colleges are requiring that full-time faculty teach three or more course sections and at least four days per week on campus this semester.
Only County College of Morris opted to convert about 80% of its planned in-person courses to remote live for the first seven weeks. CCM’s President has announced that those course sections will all begin meeting in person in mid-October.