For many members of the Lasallian community, a return to the campuses in the near future has become something to look forward to. Last October 23, during the annual University General Assembly (UGA), administrators had given some idea of how long that wait might be.
“Based on current infection rates, the pace of vaccine development, and our own risk appetite, it is prudent to assume that both study and work will be mostly online in 2021, with possible phased campus reopenings in 2022,” stated Dr. Gerardo Largoza, Executive Director of the Strategic Management and Quality Assurance Office. The announcement gained social media attention, especially from students who expressed their longing to once again set foot on campus grounds.
However, in an interview with The LaSallian, Vice Chancellor for Academics (VCA) Dr. Robert Roleda, maintains that the University has yet to make a final announcement on when they plan to reopen the campus. “The situation [is] always changing, so what was announced in UGA was the situation as we saw it at that time,” he states.
DLSU’s Mission Continuity Working Committee (MCWC), which includes the VCA, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation (VCRI), and the Vice Chancellor for Administration (VCAdmin), is constantly monitoring epidemiological data and vaccine progress to gauge when it would be best to reopen campus.
An Adhoc Committee on Campus Operations Resumption Decisions has also been approved by the Chancellor’s Council, consisting of the VCA, VCRI, VCAdmin, and the Vice Chancellor for DLSU-Laguna Campus.
Roleda explains that DLSU created five levels of campus access to inform students, faculty, and staff of protocols to be followed. Level one is “limited classes”, with activities narrowed down to laboratory courses, while level two is “limited student access”, which allows some students to use University materials like computers.
Levels three and four are strictly limited to staff and critical functions, while level five means a total campus shut down. For the past months, the University has alternated between levels three and four, Roleda adds, restricting students from campus access.
The MCWC then evaluates what campus access level to use based on a certain set of parameters—the effective reproductive number (Rt), which is used to describe the infectiousness of a disease, the 14-day moving average of both new and active cases in the past two weeks; the positivity rate, or the percentage of individuals who tested positive among all tested; and the doubling time of confirmed cases.
For level two campus access to be granted, Rt must fall below 1.0 and the positivity rate must drop to five percent. Roleda recalls that back in July, the University was at level two, allowing some students to work on their thesis. However, this did not last as confirmed cases soared in August, forcing the campus to tighten its measures.
Latest data from OCTA Research show that the National Capital Region’s Rt was at 1.06 on December 14. Meanwhile, recent figures are still to be released for Metro Manila’s positivity rate, which was recorded at four percent last month.
‘Now things are more hopeful’
Roleda notes that the recent progress in vaccine development has given them a better outlook. “Now things are more hopeful for us because [of] the vaccine. Three companies have already released the results of their vaccine [trials]. The next thing that we want to do is try to see if we can get a vaccination program going,” he expresses.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is already being administered in the United Kingdom. The Philippines, meanwhile, is targeting to vaccinate 60 to 70 percent of all Filipinos within three to five years. COVID-19 National Task Force Chief Policy Implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said in an interview with ABS-CBN that vaccines produced by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and China’s Sinovac Biotech may be available in the country by the first quarter of 2021.
Settling back into campus
In lieu of the projected campus reopening, University administrators have made careful preparations for the upcoming terms. Largoza shares that these include improvement of the current online learning system as well as the creation of protocols regarding the maximum numbers of students per classroom, laboratory, or common area, and visitor entry.
Safety measures that minimize transmission and improve ventilation throughout the campuses are also being discussed. Largoza emphasizes that they are “committed to proceeding with [these plans] with as much consultation as possible.”
Regarding the intended “phased campus reopening”, a priority scheme will be followed by the University, as those with laboratory requirements for their thesis will be the ones to be given first access to the campus. Following this would be the resumption of laboratory classes along with a limited number of in person lecture classes.
“When it’s safe to open, we will do so gradually…monitoring caseloads and improving as we go, driven by evidence that is as localized as possible,” reassures Largoza.
To ensure a safe reopening, the University is also exploring the possibility of accessing the vaccine for COVID-19 and conducting a vaccine program that will be open to the Lasallian community.
By acquiring the vaccine, Roleda is positive that worries about the virus can be lessened. He explains, “Once you have people vaccinated, the situation will be very different.”
Proceeding with caution
As news about vaccine development is becoming more favorable, Neil Lopez, an Associate Professor from the Mechanical Engineering Department, hopes that the University will continue to strike a balance between online and face-to-face classes even when the campus reopens.
“We have already shown that these means of teaching, online teaching, can be effective,” he states, citing online learning tools such as discussion boards and multiple-attempt quizzes to be some advantages.
Nevertheless, a mostly online set up for 2021 is a daunting reality for some students. Nadine Oabel (II, AB-PSM) shares that the news of a 2022 phased campus reopening is an “exhausting” reminder of the country’s current situation. “Balancing family duties, organizational and extracurriculars work, and academics at home have been hard the past few months. What more in the coming year?” she laments.
However, despite the challenges of the online term, she is hopeful that the precautions set will ensure the safety of everyone. While returning to campus is a priority, Oabel acknowledges that the University’s current plans and protocols are “for the safety of everyone—for the sole purpose of not having [the] virus spread in a larger and more vulnerable setting.”