As Hillsdale College moved classes online yesterday following an order from Michigan’s health department, the number of active cases of COVID-19 among Hillsdale students has fallen sharply.
On Wednesday morning, the college reported 32 active cases of COVID-19, down from 76 a week earlier. Active cases are categorized as individuals who remain in quarantine for 10 days from symptom onset. Since August, 189 students have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Regrettably, we are no longer able to hold or attend classes in-person as of Wednesday this week,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said in an email sent to students, faculty, and staff on Monday, Nov. 16. “We comply with these orders unwillingly and intend to do everything possible to carry on the life of the college despite this interference.”
The announcement came in response to new restrictions from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that banned in-person classes starting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, among a host of other restrictions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the new rules on the evening of Nov. 15.
In August, Arnn emphasized the “joy of being together” in a college setting. While the order will prohibit in-person classes until at least Dec. 8, the college plans to remain as connected as possible.
“You should know that your classes will continue, though not in-person. The dining hall, dorms, library, and gym remain open,” Arnn said in his email to campus. “The college will continue to provide all services and engage in all activities which are not expressly prohibited by this latest round of rules.”
Sophomore John Paul Schlueter said the switch to online courses was expected and might even allow for more flexibility in schedules.
“It saddens me that we’re going online, but it opens the door for many incredible opportunities,” Schleuter said. “I prefer in-person classes of course, but I get to spend more meaningful time with the boys and spend time with people I wouldn’t get to otherwise.”
Other students are not happy about the switch to online learning.
“You hate to see it,” said freshman Finnian McHale. “I think we’ll lack the sense of community that in-person classes bring, but maybe this will allow for an opportunity to form a bond with our classmates because we’re all going through this unique experience together.”
In the past week, 63 cases of students with COVID-19 have been resolved, meaning the students have left quarantine, and 94 cases were resolved earlier in the semester.
There are currently 131 students in contact isolation, nine of whom are awaiting test results after exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms. The students in contact isolation are being closely monitored by medical staff at Hillsdale’s Ambler Health and Wellness Center. No students have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 this semester. Of the more than 504 students who have been tested for COVID-19 this semester, 315 have tested negative and 189 have tested positive.
The orders from the state’s health department come a week before Thanksgiving break, which begins Nov. 24. While students have the option to leave campus, Arnn said they are “neither required nor encouraged” to depart before Christmas break, which begins Dec. 12.
“This year, we encourage students to consider remaining in Hillsdale over the break in order to avoid an increase in transmissions,” Carolyn Milligan, executive secretary to the dean of women, said in an email. “We understand some students have already made plans, in which case we ask that you take great care wherever you travel and try to avoid areas where cases are elevated.”
The college will provide on-campus housing and dining options for students who plan to stay on campus over Thanksgiving break. Facilities such as the George C. Roche Sports Complex and the Mossey Library will be closed, however.
General Manager of Bon Appetit David Apthorpe said that dining options will remain open for students staying on-campus over break.
“We will be operating a meal service similar to an extended weekend with brunch and dinner service from Wednesday through Sunday,” Apthorpe said.
Students in contact isolation will continue to be delivered. Students can check hillsdale.cafebonappetit.com for updated hours of operation and further information about on-campus dining.
Director of Athletics Don Brubacher said Sunday’s emergency order, which reads, “gatherings for the purpose of organized sports are prohibited unless all participants, teams, and venues comply with the enhanced testing regimen specified in the Additional Mitigation Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play,” will change operations in the athletic department.
“The newest orders from the Michigan governor will require changes in the operation of our sports teams,” Brubacher said. “We are looking at options at this time to allow our sports teams as much activity as possible while also complying with the orders.”
Brubacher said he has not yet made a game plan for the rest of the semester, but added that his department is working hard to make quick adjustments.
“We hope to have the protocols for all sports in place by the end of the week,” Brubacher said.
Hillsdale’s Student Activities Board, whose event schedule has been repeatedly altered this semester, still plans on hosting events.
Director of Student Activities Zane Mabry said SAB is still dedicated to fostering social interaction among students.
“Events look different from past years,” Mabry said. “But the latest order is not changing any of our plans for the rest of the semester.”
Mabry said that the Hillsdale community is still strong and connected, and that SAB’s agenda is to ensure that continues to be the case.
“I’m thankful that we can still have events at all, and that we have students around to attend those events,” Mabry said. “Especially as we near Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re happy to have the opportunity to celebrate together.”
Apthorpe said that the new orders have altered how the catering company determines who it can serve.
“The major change is going from a capacity basis to determine seating to a distance basis,” Apthorpe said in an email. “So in the previous health department order, we were operating at 50% of normal capacity. In the new order, guests must be six feet apart, essentially limiting one guest per table or booth, and tables must be spaced a minimum of six feet apart.”
Apthorpe said Bon Appetit may continue to adjust dining regulations to improve efficiency.
“The biggest change will be in enforcement of the distancing regulations, but we’re also looking at different options to ensure compliance,” Apthorpe said. “There also may be an adjustment to the grab-and-go program. With in-person classes unavailable in the short-term, we may look to consolidate locations to utilize staff in a different manner.”
Arnn, who on multiple occasions has said he hopes to return to normal as soon as possible, said the college is exploring what legal strategies may be needed to continue college.
“These new rules are scientifically and morally ill-informed, arbitrary, and likely to cause serious harm to colleges and students in the state. It is a grave thing to separate students from one another and from their teachers,” Arnn said. “As John Henry Newman observed, the unstructured and social interactions among students constitute the most indispensable part of their education.”
A previous edition of this story incorrectly stated that the library and sports complex would be open over Thanksgiving Break. The Collegian regrets the error.