Rising cases, falling confidence

With COVID-19 cases rising in the county, students and professors are left questioning when and if the university will act

Dr. Mary Bacon, Chesmistry professor, believes that if the numbers continue the way they are, they should set classes back to online. Photo by: Amelia Reed | Torch Photographer

As cases of COVID-19 in the area rise, some students and professors are concerned about how the university should be reacting to the situation.

According to the New York Times, the seven-day average number of cases in Mecosta County, where Big Rapids and Ferris State sit, have increased by 118%, almost to the level of infection seen in April of 2021, the most severe month for COVID-19 cases in 2021.

Dr. Melinda Myers, a professor in the Department of English, Literature and World Languages, and Dr. Mary Bacon, a chemistry professor, have both had students missing from their classes due to contracting COVID-19.

“I had three students in different classes who let me know that they have COVID, and then also there’s obviously the number of students who are just missing because they’re sick,” Myers said. “They don’t necessarily know they have COVID or not, but [they] can’t show up because they’re either going to get tested or they were around somebody. So there’s definitely some attendance issues.”

Not everyone is too worried though. Taelyn Siddal is in the dental hygiene program on campus, and she hasn’t seen any evidence of a worsening situation yet.

“I haven’t seen it personally,” Siddal said. “It almost seemed to be worse last year. I also know that I’m protected in my dental hygiene courses with PPE.”

There is also a concern that the number of cases on Ferris’ COVID-19 dashboard don’t reflect the same increase the county is experiencing.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Bacon said. “Are we getting the whole story?”

“I think that, for whatever the reason, students aren’t reporting,” Myers said. “Between the case numbers in Mecosta County, and simply the number of students that I’ve had in my own classes, as well as all of my colleagues… we look at the dashboard and there are only 20 active cases, and… between my department we can come up with more than 20 students.”

Student Drew Smythe also brought up the fact that students aren’t reporting everything to the school, and they don’t wear masks off-campus.

“People don’t do the symptom checker. I think that they all wear their masks on campus, but once they’re off-campus they all go maskless,” Smythe said.

One general opinion shared by all is that if the cases on campus do get out of hand, the university will choose to be reactive instead of proactive. They’ll implement new restrictions and plans later rather than sooner.

“They’ll be reactive. I don’t think there’s a doubt that the university really wants everything to go back to normal. I think the phrase that they use is ‘business as usual’,” Myers said.

“They will probably switch to their COVID-19 plan later rather than sooner,” Siddal said. “I think everyone is over this mess and is trying to get back to normal, regardless of the case numbers these days.”

In the event that cases do rise to the level that the university must take action, moving classes online, either partially or completely, seems to be the most popular option between students and professors.

“Go back to fully online teaching,” Bacon said.

“I think we would have to go back to zoom,” Smythe said. “It’s very unfortunate, but it’s better than just nothing.”

“I would probably turn to a hyflex model where we would have Zoom up in the classroom. And I would allow students who wanted to attend the class to attend in person, and students who wanted could attend through zoom,” Myers said.

Myers said she would also like to see flexibility for the staff who are actually teaching classes; to allow them to choose how to proceed with classes if COVID-19 becomes worse.

“We have a vast amount of experience from the last two years of teaching online in various modes. I’ve taught synchronously [and] asynchronously… We know how to do those things pretty well,” Myers said.

For now, all anyone can do is wait and see what happens.