Colorado Mesa University returns to in-person learning today, and the Maverick community is looking to build off a successful fall term.
CMU began last semester in-person but shifted to remote in November as COVID-19 cases in Mesa County skyrocketed.
Despite not finishing in-person, CMU officials see last semester as a success.
“No one was 100% happy, but we all made the best of a bad situation,” President Tim Foster said. “We learned nimbleness and have an adaptive ability needed for a situation like this.”
CMU was no stranger to outbreaks nor quarantines, but it was able to avoid severe ones.
Officials credit that success to its robust testing infrastructure. CMU used standard nasal swabs, saliva testing and wastewater testing to zero in on cases and stop outbreaks before they began. Retaining that infrastructure is key to making this semester a success, Foster said.
According to the most recent numbers, CMU had 93 COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. Seven of its quarantine/isolation rooms, where positive students go to avoid spread to others, are occupied, according to the university’s COVID-19 data dashboard.
Some students and professors were pleased with the past semester.
Suzanne Owens-Ott, an accounting professor, had a similar view. The restrictions weren’t ideal, but it was fine given the circumstances.
Owens-Ott taught four classes, plus a part-time one. Instead of a group of 30 students crammed in a room, there were 15 spaced apart. Markings on the floor created the boundaries for their desks, and each room had wipes and hand sanitizer.
Before and after classes, students or professors would wipe down the seats and desks.
The toughest aspect for Owens-Ott, though, was keeping track of which students were out.
“It was difficult and time-consuming,” she said. “I communicated with quarantined students separately and would jot down who’s out. I’d do that for every class, and then that list would change, of course.”
Owens-Ott credits her students for putting up with the fluid situation.
She remarked that everyone — students and professors — were understanding and cut each other slack when it came to the learning experience.
“There was a lot of apprehension at the start. We didn’t know if it would work,” she said. “At first, I had to remind people to wear masks, but within a week or two, everyone complied. They understood that this is what’s needed if we were going to be on campus.”
Joshua Sanchez, a sophomore, said that the university did a good job staying on top of the virus. He had some of his classes shift online at the beginning of the semester, but adapted, although it was difficult to not be in-person.
“It wasn’t too bad, but it did kind of suck to not be able to interact with a bunch of people like we used to,” Sanchez said. “It’s college. You’re supposed to go out and explore. But because of the limitations we had, we couldn’t.”
Sanchez and Owens-Ott couldn’t think of significant changes they wanted to see for the new semester.
Foster and Amy Bronson, director of the Physician Assistant Program at CMU, expect the new semester to go well, too.
The spring playing field isn’t the same as fall’s. The COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, for one.
“It’s going to protect our most at-risk demographics,” said Bronson, who is also the co-chair of CMU’s Safer Together, Stronger Together committee. “Also, the new COVID-19 variant won’t impact our strategies.”