Last year, college students from 47 states descended on Durango with nary a worry in the world about their annual migration.
What a difference a year makes.
Fort Lewis College, like institutions across the world, has been busy since March adapting to the new normal brought on by COVID-19.
The planning has been apparent this week, move-in week, at FLC.
Drive-thru check-in“We started Monday with the drive-thru check-in. We paid a lot of attention to logistics, and it’s paid off. No one’s had to wait more than 30 minutes at any one time,” said Jess Savage, director of admissions, speaking under one of a dozen tent awnings set up in the parking lot of Roy Dennison Memorial Field.
In a drive-thru circuit, students received an orientation, an initial consultation with admissions and a meeting with student housing. Finally, before exiting the parking lot to move into their residence hall, they hit the COVID-19 testing station, where all students staying on campus were administered a nasal swab test.
Ethan Wright, a freshman from Birmingham, Alabama, who will major in engineering while racing mountain bikes for the cycling team, said the FLC nasal swab test was gentler than his first test, administered by his sister.
“It was way shorter and easier. I think she was just trying to torture me,” Wright said.
Southwest Colorado is new to Wright, but he’s come to Colorado to snowboard for several winters.
“I’ve been riding since I was 3 and racing since eighth grade. So this is great – to be in the mountains on my bike,” he said.
Savage said as many as 1,400 students are expected to live in residence halls on campus or in the Durango Downtown Inn, which has been leased to provide additional space in an era of social distancing.
“There’s been some movement in the last week, with students wanting online-only classes, so the final numbers may be a bit less,” Savage said.
After move-in week, the COVID-19 testing station will remain in the football field parking lot, offering nasal swab tests to all students from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays to Thursdays.
Safer on campusBelle Raleigh, sophomore border language major from Redstone, is especially pleased about precautions on campus to minimize risk from the novel coronavirus.
“I’m glad testing will be available during the semester if you’re exposed or if you’re feeling sick,” she said.
Raleigh, who works with the city of Durango’s Gametime recreation program for children 5 to 13, said she feels more secure about measures taken on campus to deal with virus than most other places.
“I think things can be a little more concerning off campus, where people may not be wearing masks,” she said.
Asymptomatic cases likelyJeff Dupont, associate vice president for student affairs, said less than half of the 1,400 students expected to be tested had been administered nasal swabs as of Thursday morning. By noon Wednesday, no positive cases had come back.
He didn’t expect the absence of cases would last.
“We do expect to have some asymptomatic cases in the student community. We have students coming in from across the nation,” Dupont said.
If a positive case is identified, the school is prepared to quarantine the student for 14 days, Dupont said.
The drive-thru testing station will come down Thanksgiving weekend, but by that time, students will have left campus, with finals week conducted all online.
Patrick Fredricks, leaderships program coordinator, who organized the drive-thru check-in, said the logistics was a “huge collaborative effort across campus.”
“We had conversations with a lot the departments to find out what worked for them, and how we could structure things so the drive-thru worked for everybody,” he said.
Initially, 40 FLC employees and 10 student leaders were slated to work the check-in station, but things were going so smoothly 10 employees were sent back to their usual campus duties.
More time with studentsFLC President Tom Stritikus said some aspects of drive-thru check-in will be retained.
Students were given a schedule of when to show up at the drive-thru check-in and when to move into the residence halls.
“We will keep things like staggered move-in over six days, and a scheduled orientation gives us more time to spend with the students,” he said.
For Devyn Valandra, 18, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a freshman, business management major, from Rapid City, South Dakota, on-campus learning is his preference.
“I was worried it was going to be all online with no hands-on work, so I’m excited just to be on campus. I was unsure we’d even have school,” he said.
Casey Valandra, Devyn’s father, who helped him move, said he’s not too worried about his son joining more than 3,000 other students from around the country on campus.
“I’m not worried about him. He’s a strong, healthy kid. He’ll be fine. I’m excited to have him meet new people,” he said.