As the fall semester begins at the College of Staten Island, we are reminded of the many efforts taken to ensure a safe return for students, faculty, and staff. As the COVID pandemic continues and variants to the virus remain a threat, it is also important that the College maintain the levels of safety and compliance as the semester progresses. To that end, several offices on campus are making sure that once students and the surrounding community are back, they remain on campus.
“We look to the Coronavirus Task Force and the Office of Facilities Management to establish health and safety standards for the College,” said Wellness Manager Janine Scotto. “Strict adherence to those established guidelines will help ensure that the entire CSI community stays safe, and that is what we aim to do.”
Scotto works in the Health and Wellness Center at CSI. She and her team have been a part of several virtual town hall events aimed at preparing students for their return, but the office is also active in keeping up consistent communication with students about their health and safety once they are on campus, in buildings, and in classrooms, places that all come with inherent risks.
“There are several measures we are reinforcing to help keep our campus safe: staying home if feeling sick, vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, to name a few,” she explained. “None of the recommendations are perfect on their own, and we know there are breakthrough cases, however, it is the combined effects of these preventive measures that will keep the CSI community safe.”
CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos recently announced a temporary mandate that all persons on all CUNY campuses will need to be masked at all times, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained. While the College intends to make social distancing a priority, sanitizing common spaces will be a much more common practice as well. “We have many additional portable hand sanitizing stations that have been staged around campus for general use, and custodians continue to disinfect restrooms and touch points in addition to their regular duties,” explained Keith Pisons, Chief Administrative Superintendent of Facilities. “We have been shampooing rugs and waxing floors as well, and this will be an ongoing project. All the trades have been very busy servicing critical systems including our HVAC system, main sewage lift station, and our high-voltage service, critical to the operation of our Central Plant and the campus as a whole. These are just a few of the many in-house projects and daily duties that Facilities Management and Buildings and Grounds perform year-round to ensure a safe and healthy environment.”
Of course, the greatest preventative measure against the spread of COVID is vaccination, and the FDA recently approved the Pfizer vaccine, which will ensure that all students attending in-person and hybrid courses will be vaccinated by late-September. In lieu of the FDA approval and until all persons are vaccinated, COVID testing through Applied DNA Clinical Labs on campus and in 19 other CUNY locations will continue to provide those in the community the peace of mind of knowing they are COVID-negative before entering campus. Executive Director of Student Affairs Danielle Dimitrov has been one of the central figures around communicating CUNY vaccination and testing protocols for students as part of the town halls, and continues to reinforce the message in the many conversations she has had with students leading up to the first week of classes. “We are still in a pandemic, and the health and safety of our students as well as the entire CSI community is our number one priority,” she said. “Now that the FDA has approved one of the vaccines, it is imperative that we continue the communication with students to get vaccinated within the 45-day window, and we also now have a universal mask policy to inform everyone on. We want all of our students to have a healthy and successful semester as we return to campus, so that means staying in contact and to inform students of COVID-19 policies and directives.”
The Health and Wellness Center has also done a great deal of preparation in the event there is a COVID case on campus, especially with respect to residents living in Dolphin Cove. Immediate quarantining and a thorough contact tracing follow-up with outreach to other potentially affected individuals is something that Scotto and her team are already quite used to. “The Health and Wellness staff has been dealing with ill students, positive cases, and case tracking since the early days of the pandemic,” Scotto said. “We follow strict protocols and work closely with the NYC Department of Health, and with Dolphin Cove staff regarding the needs of residential students. We coordinate with the Athletics program regarding student-athletes and we work with individual programs and departments, as indicated, if there are cases that arise.”
The Health and Wellness Center has always been active in illness prevention, treatment, and remediation in the event a community member is feeling ill. On a campus as big at CSI’s, the Center is used to treating patients, is fully equipped to safely and effectively navigate a COVID case, and is well-versed in limiting exposure. “Obviously, we want to limit any possible exposure and the campus has an isolation room designated for this purpose,” Scotto explained. “Students can always call us for an appointment or guidance on next steps if they feel ill. If a student in Dolphin Cove is feeling unwell, we ask that they stay in their room and contact the staff and call the Health Center for guidance.”
Scotto also knows that it takes a great deal of proactivity and preventative maintenance to put the community’s minds at ease with the return-to-campus. With the Delta variant dominating the COVID headlines, she knows that many are feeling unease as they begin again their educational pursuits in person. This is why the Health and Wellness Center wants students to know they are open daily from 9:00am-5:00pm, and are staffed with nurses, a Nurse Practitioner, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and a Social Worker. The physical space of the Health Center consists of two exam rooms, a student sick/resting room, and clinician offices. To best meet student needs, they continue to offer telehealth services in addition to being open on campus. These are all examples of how the Center is staying ahead of the virus, and giving students, faculty, and staff, the peace of mind to know that they are not only returning to a safe place but also one that is prepared in the event there is an emergency.
Of course, physical health is paramount on campus, but a healthy campus means one that is just as concerned with mental health. With many students and staffers returning to the campus for the first time in many months, apprehension and anxiety will hit many in the community, and Dr. Ann Booth of the CSI Counseling Center knows her area will play an integral role in supporting those who come onto campus with those feelings. “The Counseling Center staff is respectful of all perspectives and provides services for students to help them tackle obstacles that interfere with reaching their goals,” said Dr. Booth. “Many people are anxious about many things these days. We are here to help students manage anxiety and live their best lives.”
For the past 17 months, Dr. Booth and her staff have operated in a remote environment. They will continue in that fashion, perhaps indefinitely, as it has helped students access the Center from the comfort of their remote environments. The Center will also have an in-person presence in due time while students and staff enter campus. “The cornerstone of counseling is human connection. Face-to-face interaction is an essential component of the relationship,” Dr. Booth explained. “When the pandemic began, we were forced to find other means to do our work. We were pleasantly surprised to see that we could work effectively on Zoom and we hope to keep Zoom counseling as part of our offerings. That said, we do look forward to offering in-person counseling again but will wait until we can be unmasked in our office with students because being masked during counseling does not allow for the vital exchange of facial and emotional expression.”
Dr. Booth wants all CSI students who are reading this piece to know that The Counseling Center is a resource that can and should be used by them if they have with any feelings of unrest. She prides herself on her team offering support and guidance in any capacity and understands that COVID has presented so many challenges that extend far beyond the physical illness. “People have suffered so much during the pandemic. We have experienced loss of loved ones, financial stability, human interaction, on campus learning, and general way of life,” Dr. Booth explained. “Many people have experienced despair, anxiety, depression, grief, hopelessness, and loss of a sense of one’s identity to name a few. The Counseling Center is here to help. We are seasoned mental health professional who are dedicated to the mental health of our students, and our services are free and confidential.”
In sum, the teams assembled at the College of Staten Island are remaining active in making sure that the campus isn’t just safe to reopen, but safe to stay open, progressing to a full in-person model in the future. The College will continue to do so with guidance from New York State, New York City, and The City University of New York, following CDC guidelines every step of the way. With that blueprint in place and with the College taking extensive measures to keep its community safe, they hope for a continued safe and healthy fall 2021 semester.
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