Because the landscape for COVID-19 is variable by region, the school is developing on-campus health and safety levels. To accomplish our goals for remaining on campus, our school will start in Level 3, with the highest restrictions and physical distancing expectations for the first weeks of school. Our hope is that through the course of the fall term and year, we will be able to move into Level 2, and perhaps Level 1, which would each allow for the easing of restrictions for our community. To help slow the spread and transmission of COVID-19, the Level 3 restrictions for the start of school will include the following:
The school will adhere to Pennsylvania and CDC guidance regarding face coverings. All students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear a mask at all times when indoors, except when eating, sleeping, or in a family group on a dormitory floor. There will be information on the proper use, removal, and care of face masks when students arrive on campus.
While the world has adopted the term “social distancing” when referring to the six-feet-apart rule, we want to make it clear to our students that the “social” aspect of school will be just as important had this been a year with no pandemic. We want our students to interact, laugh, share stories, and discuss the happenings of the day. Going forward, our community will use the term “physical distancing” instead. While we must remain physically at a distance to protect our community, we will still be social. In fact, we encourage it! While in Level 3, students will be asked to stay six feet apart from each other when walking, eating, in class, and in other designated indoor areas. This requirement will be eased when students are in their circle groups on a dormitory floor.
The school will adhere to the Pennsylvania and CDC guidance regarding contact tracing. A COVID-19 response contact-tracing team made up of at least 20 adult members of the community will conduct contact tracing interviews via telephone or in person. Designated members of this team will be mobilized immediately upon notification from the health center staff that a student or employee may be positive with COVID-19. The school is also looking into technology that will assist in this process. It is important to note: those who are considered to be a contact are those who were within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, regardless of whether they were wearing a mask.
All members of the school community will complete the Mercersburg Daily Health Check digital screening each morning prior to leaving their respective dorm rooms, apartments, or homes. For at least the first four weeks of the school year, students will also be asked to complete the daily health check between 7:30 and 8 p.m. If no symptoms are reported, community members can proceed with the day under school protocols. If students report symptoms, they are directed by the health check to remain in place and to contact the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center for a telehealth check. Health center personnel are notified of the student’s report and will reach out to the student if the student does not initiate contact. The health screening information for students will be monitored daily by the health center staff. Observation will also be done by dorm faculty and teaching faculty, checking on students regularly to ensure health and wellness. Data is stored on a secure server, with access by medical personnel and authorized school personnel only.
Testing and Quarantine Before School
Every student must obtain a nasal swab PCR COVID-19 test within 14 days before returning to campus, and that test report must be submitted to the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center upon arrival. (Employees must also obtain the nasal swab test.) All students must also self-quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to campus. For our domestic students, we are expecting them to adhere to this request, restricting their in-person access during the 14-day quarantine period to only immediate family members, and following strict physical distancing guidelines for that period of time. Our best hope in remaining fully open to on-campus learning will be to limit any virus on campus, and the care taken before students return to school will be critical to our success. In addition, all students traveling from another country must follow CDC guidelines and quarantine in the United States for 14 days prior to returning to school.
If a student is exhibiting symptoms, they will be isolated and assessed in the COVID unit of the health center. Students will remain in isolation until a parent or guardian can take them to their home or another appropriate location off campus to isolate/quarantine. If they cannot be evacuated from campus, the student will remain on campus, in isolation, in accordance with CDC guidelines. If able, students will continue their learning virtually.
Quarantine Because of Contact
Students who are identified as having been in contact with a student who has been isolated because of COVID-like symptoms will be quarantined in a designated area for 14 days. We strongly encourage families to pick up students from campus for their quarantine period; if not, students will stay in the Mercersburg Inn, North Cottage, or a local hotel (for a nominal fee) with a school chaperone for no fewer than 14 days symptom-free. Students in quarantine will have meals delivered, and we will have a designated location on campus for quarantine students to enjoy the outdoors, interact with masks, be physically distant, and be set up to continue their learning virtually; however, they will sleep in these other accommodations. Again, we want to emphasize that it is preferred that students be picked up and quarantine off site.
Rutherford Health and Wellness Center
The Rutherford Health and Wellness Center, renovated in 2019, strives to provide the most exceptional health care possible to our students. The Health Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week while school is in session, and a licensed nurse is on duty around the clock. Students may be seen by scheduled appointment or on a walk-in basis. In addition to a staff that includes licensed nurses, nurse practitioners, and the school physician, our Health Center medical team also includes athletic trainers who work closely with the Health Center to care for sports-related injuries.