By Shaun Chornobroff
This time a year ago, as the leaves changed color and Halloween approached, Rider University was still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in its everyday existence.
The COVID-19 Implementation Team was sending regular communication; a dashboard was updating the community weekly on cases and mask and social distancing requirements were enforced throughout the school.
A year later, with masking and social distancing requirements gone, the weekly dashboard is now extinct and new variants constantly emerging. The implementation team which led the university through the pandemic is unfazed, but aware of the possibility of another outbreak in the current state of the pandemic.
“I am honestly not as concerned because what the information is telling us is that for most people, this is still relatively mild,” said Debbie Stasolla, one of the leaders of Rider’s implementation team and the school’s vice president for strategic initiatives and planning and secretary to the board. “… That doesn’t mean some people aren’t going to get very sick, but in the scheme of things, it isn’t as life-threatening because so many of us are also protected or have natural immunity.”
In Mercer County where Rider is located, cases have been relatively steady with positive cases over the past two months.
Rider’s volleyball and club ice hockey teams have both had games altered with key players missing or games canceled as a result of positive COVID-19 diagnoses.
While the university is no longer keeping track of positive faculty COVID cases, The Student Health Center has recorded 18 positive cases, according to Rider’s Director of Student Health Services Elizabeth Luciano. However, Luciano says her numbers may not be a true representation of the positive cases around campus since an increasing number of students are being diagnosed through at-home tests or outside providers.
Even with students being diagnosed through a variety of modalities, Luciano and Stassola still urge them to report positive results to the health center so they can be excused from classes.
“You are sick and you need to be out, yes, we tell you to reach out to faculty on your own, but faculty will want to hear it officially too,” Stasolla said.
As students find new ways to be diagnosed, or are even diagnosing themselves, the risk of disclosure may be more prevalent than ever, with students potentially not alerting the university of a positive test in this new social climate surrounding the virus.
However, Stasolla says this fear is something the implementation team was battling throughout the pandemic.
“That is always part of the reality we have to deal with. Not just with students. There could be employees who do the same thing, who don’t want to admit they’re sick,” Stasolla said. “I would like to think over the past two years we’ve been hitting students and employees hard about the idea of not coming to campus, class or work if you’re symptomatic, until you know what your symptoms are.”
With the cold and flu season now approaching, sicknesses that resemble COVID-19 may be on the rise. Stasolla explained that this time one year ago, the school saw more cases of strep throat than of COVID-19. But if you are questioning whether or not you are COVID positive, Stasolla will push you to one place: the Student Health Center.
“It’s hard to tell, do I have COVID? Do I have allergies? Is it a cold? Is it strep? Is it [the] flu? Is it some other respiratory illness that I have? It’s hard to tell,” Stasolla said. “We’re encouraging both on-campus and off-campus students to utilize the health center when you have those kinds of questions that are not sure what to do next.”