Ferris’ on-campus COVID-19 preparedness plan for the spring semester remains nearly identical to that of the fall, despite reaching a record high number of active cases.
On Jan. 11, the second day of in-person classes, Ferris’ COVID-19 dashboard reported 108 active cases. The Re-entry Committee appears to lack any plan for implementing additional health and safety measures, such as mandated virtual learning or vaccinations, as the University sees active cases reach triple digits for the first time.
The Committee declined the offer for a formal interview with the Torch. Associate Vice President for External Relations Jeremy Mishler provided a statement on behalf of all committee members.
According to the statement, the University will continue to “implement the health and safety protocols established to keep our Ferris community safe.” This includes the expectation for students to mask, monitor their symptoms, report positive test results, and “practice good hygiene.”
Like the fall semester, students in on-campus housing were subjected to mandatory testing. However, students were responsible for scheduling or obtaining their own tests and did not need proof of negative results to move back onto campus.
This testing and an increased “public awareness and overall enforcement of its indoor mask policy at home athletic events” is the extent of the Committee’s additional health and safety protocol, which they continue to discuss weekly.
Holly Price, Ferris Faculty Association Insurance Coordinator and former Committee member, believes that the focus of these weekly meetings often strays from health and safety to image.
“A lot of the time on the Committee was [spent] trying to draft the announcements and the emails,” Price said. “Right. Like, how can we say this? Let’s put this together. Read what I started. What do you think… A lot of it was PR.”
Price explained that she never felt like an influential voice during her three-month stint with the Committee.
“[Ferris] needs this committee for their image. But I think there’s a smaller committee that is directing the Re-entry Committee… I think the Board of Trustees is basically leaving it in the hands of Bobby and the President,” Price said.
Price stepped down from her position with the Committee in the summer of 2020 because her effort was reportedly not “being used in a valuable way.” The FFA collectively decided against sending in a replacement.
As the two-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches, Price sees no sign of increased support from the Committee.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of people looking into what we could be doing. They know that to do more will cost money and upset students,” Price said. “[It is] true for students and faculty alike. There’s very little support when you get sick. There’s very little support when I try to teach the class safely.”
Assistant Professor and Doctor of Public Health Emmanuel Jadhav believes that, given certain restraints, Ferris is doing everything in its power to protect the community from COVID-19.
“Is Ferris doing what they should? Yes,” Jadhav said. “The response to that would be, you know, at least they’re doing what the administration is thinking should be done.”
Jadhav believes that one, with Spectrum Health, the Ferris community and Mecosta County at large, would need external assistance to implement greater health and safety measures.
“I think we are currently doing what we can do with what we have,” Jadhav said. “We are going to need more to do more… We don’t have an extra hospital. We don’t have the ability to bring [more] testing kits. These are not things that Ferris does, these are not things that Spectrum does.”
With case numbers continuing to spike, Jadhav encourages students to protect themselves and others on an individual basis. To him, distancing, masking, testing and vaccinating is the “minimum.”
“It is scary to think about our infrastructure, just our natural infrastructure, being in a rural, underserved health-professional shortage area,” Jadhav said. “We find ourselves in this unique situation where, should things get out of control, I don’t know what it would look like.”
For testing and vaccine information, visit the Ferris State COVID-19 Dashboard.