By Shaun Chornobroff
With the omicron variant of the coronavirus posing a constant threat the university did not face last semester, Rider has had 44 positive cases of COVID-19 in the first three weeks of the spring semester, according to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard which is updated every Friday.
The dashboard displayed 14 cases from Feb. 5-11, making it the second time in the early portion of the semester that the school has seen 10 or more cases in a given week, something that only occurred three times in the entirety of the fall semester.
The fall dashboard only displayed 44 cases among the student body over the whole semester. The spring dashboard recorded 36 positive student cases as of Feb. 11.
“I’m not worried about it,” said Debbie Stasolla, Rider’s vice president for strategic initiatives and planning and secretary to the board. “I know for sure, it’s something we had to expect given the very contagious nature of the omicron variant.”
The school recorded a total of 21 students in quarantine, with 17 of them being on campus and eight students and two employees in isolation.
Among the university’s expanded efforts for the spring semester has been the optional surveillance testing of vaccinated and boosted individuals, although Stasolla, who is one of the heads of Rider’s implementation team, said it is not being taken advantage of.
“Very few are taking us up on the offer,” Stasolla said of the vaccinated students who are chosen. “So we’ll have to consider whether we continue offering that or not.”
The rise in cases from Feb. 5-11 coincides with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announcing on Feb. 7 an end to mask mandates in New Jersey schools and child care centers starting on March 7.
Murphy’s announcement did not apply to colleges and universities, leaving Stasolla and the COVID-19 implementation team with a decision to make.
“I was very encouraged to learn of the governor’s announcement [last] week,” said Stasolla. “It applies primarily to, it appears, school districts and child care facilities. But I’ll take it as an opportunity for the COVID implementation team to reconsider our indoor mask mandate in light of this announcement. … So, in the meantime, the COVID team will begin considering that in the meeting this week.”
The implementation team will likely wait for the New Jersey Department of Health to release updated guidelines before making any official announcement, Stasolla said.
A press release from the governor’s office announcing the end of the mask mandate partly read, “Prior to the mandate being lifted, the Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies to align with the risks and unique needs of their setting and student population to ensure safe learning environments.”
Despite any reservations, Stasolla said she sees the announcement and the potential discussion for an ending to Rider’s mask mandate as beneficial.
Stasolla said, “I am very encouraged, I think it’s a step in the right direction to reconsider our indoor masking requirements because it’s just another way we’re learning to live with this virus.”