August 8, 2020 Rich Rezler
Before scheduling a return to campus, Becca Schlaff first had to complete an online training module that outlined the safety measures Washtenaw Community College is taking in response to COVID-19.
Inside the Occupational Education Building, she followed the designated traffic patterns, walking past constant reminders of a “new normal.” Signs indicate visitors must wear masks at all times. Social distancing guides dot the floors and hang on walls. An “out of order” sign over the drinking fountain informs her bottles of water are available in classrooms.
In a letter to the WCC community, President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca said having students and faculty back on campus to allow for the completion of Winter incompletes has given the college an opportunity to analyze the strict safety protocols that will continue when similar lab-based classes return in Fall 2020.
“I’ve been pleased with reports of their effectiveness and how they’ve been willingly accepted by students and faculty,” Bellanca wrote. “Keeping our campus a safe place is a shared responsibility that includes the college implementing necessary protocols and those coming to campus following them.”
Upon arrival at her Radiography lab, Schlaff sits alone at a table — multiple bottles of hand sanitizer within reach — puts on a pair of gloves and awaits further course-specific safety instruction from program director William Nelson.
“I have no problem with any of this," says Schlaff. "I think being in a healthcare program, we probably understand more than most the importance of safety,"
While WCC will continue to offer most classes online or in virtual classrooms in Fall 2020, those classes that have lab components that cannot be offered remotely will be offered in a mixed mode format that includes lectures online and labs on campus.
More than 130 classes will be taught in the mixed mode format in the following programs: Art, Audio, Auto Body Repair, Automotive Services, Broadcasting, Construction Technology, Culinary Arts, Custom Cars & Concepts, Dental Assisting, Electricity/Electronics, Fluid Power, Health Science, HVAC, Machine Tool Technology, Mechatronics, Medical Assisting, Motorcycle Service Technology, Numerical Control, Photography, Physical Therapist Assistant, Radiography, Robotics, Surgical Technology, Video Production, and Welding & Fabrication. (View the complete list of Fall 2020 mixed mode classes here.)
Only those students enrolled in mixed mode classes will be allowed on campus during the Fall 2020 semester. All student services will continue to be offered virtually (see our Virtual Learning Support and Resources page for contact information).
Impressed by efficiency, eagerness to follow
Walking further down the OE hallway to observe the Welding, Advanced Manufacturing and HVAC labs that also had a limited number of students completing Winter 2020 classes on this day, WCC Dean of Advanced Technology and Public Service Careers Dr. Jimmie Baber says he’s impressed by the efficiency of the safety measures and students’ eagerness to follow them.
In each of those programs, students are provided with plastic face shields to be worn in place of fabric face masks if they are working near flammable equipment. On this day, every student is seen wearing both of the protective items.
In the welding lab, every other booth is closed off with yellow caution tape and instructors provide direction from outside the strip curtains, rather than looking over their shoulder inside the booths.
In the Technical & Industrial Building across campus, the check-in process and facility safety protocols are similar. Up on the second floor, Surgical Technology student Jessie Piette said she also welcomed the safety measures — although not much is different inside the classroom.
Piette and many other other Allied Health Department students are always in full PPE, even before the pandemic, to prepare for their future workplace.
“I hear people complaining about wearing a mask for 20 minutes in the grocery store, but healthcare workers have always worn PPE for eight or more hours every day to keep people safe,” Piette said.
Before any individuals returned to campus, the college contracted with four specialized companies to complement its own exhaustive steps.
One assessed campus facilities to establish maximum capacities while maintaining social distancing and flow, another tested building water quality, another tested the airflow in occupied classrooms, and an industrial hygiene company helped develop detail-intense guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting.
The health screening and temperature check taken each day is meant to keep those with COVID-19 symptoms off campus. The check-in and check-out process allows Public Safety officials to know exactly what areas of campus was potentially infected if an asymptomatic individual starts showing symptoms while on campus, or tests positive after being on campus.
That information is paramount to following both the college's disinfecting protocols and to the contact tracing efforts that would follow a positive test.
Students who enroll in Fall 2020 hybrid classes will receive a full description of
all safety-related rules and expectations before the first day of class.
Bellanca reminded students and employees that the college would continually monitor health officials’ guidance to determine appropriate actions and encouraged them to be “attentive, flexible, serious and engaged regarding the steps we need to take as a community to care for ourselves and one another.”