By Michelle McDaniel
Special to The Texas Catholic
University of Dallas classes are moving to remote learning for the next several days and other health-and-safety measures are being taken after a reported spike in confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at the Irving campus.
In an email sent to all undergraduate students Oct. 28, UD President Thomas S. Hibbs announced most on-campus activities will be shut down until at least 7 a.m. Nov. 2. In the email, Hibbs said that at least a dozen new known COVID-positive cases had been reported on campus since Oct. 26.
“We are hopeful this will be a short-term situation, but as these situations are fluid, we are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the health of our UD Irving campus community,” Hibbs wrote in the email, adding that all of the individuals who had tested positive are experiencing no or mild symptoms. “We are taking this precautionary step out of an abundance of caution to enable our Health Center staff to identify the cause and extent of the outbreak and to prevent further community spread.”
Students will be required to follow rules determined through the UD COVID-19 Preparedness Committee.
All on-campus students will be required to stay in their dorms “as much as possible,” with classes held online and food delivered to each student, including those without a meal-plan so as to prevent exposure to other potential carriers of the virus. The university cancelled all in-person events, and although students are allowed outside, they must practice social distancing and wear a mask at all times.
“I think it’s definitely something that’s necessary at the moment just to figure out who has the virus and who doesn’t,” freshman José Vega said. “And that’s the opinion I see among most of the student body. They all seem pretty content with that. Although it’s not something we’re super happy about, we understand the necessity to get done with this surge so we can get back to regular classes.”
Throughout the semester, UD has implemented strategies such as mandatory testing and the requirement of masks in order to prevent outbreaks. The health center updates a chart online daily with the number of students testing positive.
At the beginning of the semester, teachers and students were given the option to complete the semester online or in person. Although many professors decided to teach in-person, they simultaneously worked to teach in-person and to teach online for the students who opted for online-learning.
“In some ways, it might be a relief for a teacher that we’re only working one medium now… At least it will all be one continuous format,” philosophy professor William Frank said. “And perhaps it will be easier for me. Whether it will be more effective, we’ll just have to see.”
While understanding the health-and-safety needs, the UD professor did lament how the pandemic has caused students to miss out on “normal college experiences.”
“It’s nice to go to school to learn, but people go to school, and other things happen,” Frank said. “You build friendships. You’re interested in sociality. All of that is limited with COVID.”
Students, who had previously been attending in-person courses, expressed some disappointment with having to move online, even for a brief period.
“It is disappointing to see my favorite class go that way, especially because I love the Socratic seminar style of class that it had,” freshman Sebastian Gutierrez said. “Maybe during this four-day period, they can try out different styles in which they want to teach their classes to see what works. That way if classes have to go completely online, they already have a tested teaching style and know what works.”
Due to the pandemic, UD opted to compress the semester so that finals end before Thanksgiving. Students now have fewer than four weeks left until their courses are over for the semester, having survived the majority of the semester with few COVID-related incidents.
“Everyone has invested a great deal of time and energy to make this on-campus semester possible and we will need to be even more vigilant in the final weeks of the semester,” Hibbs wrote in the announcement. “Please pray for the health and well-being of all students, faculty, and staff.”