Central State welcomes students back in-person with widespread testing plan

The Pirate Ambassadors welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students to Central State for the 2020 school year. STAFF/MARSHALL GORBY

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Freshmen and transfer students were welcomed to Central State University on Tuesday in 2020 style.

The Pirate Ambassadors greeted students at the Central State gate off of Ohio 42 with dancing and cheering. The upperclassmen danced to Unk’s “Walk it Out,” but chanted “spread out” to remind students to social distance.

Classes will start on Sept. 8.

Jack Thomas, the new Central State president, said all classes will be online the first week so that everyone can be tested for COVID-19. Central State announced it would test all 2,000 students on campus, as well as staff, faculty and administration for coronavirus last week.

About 150 students have been tested so far with the assistance of the Greene County Public Health Department and the Ohio Army National Guard, Thomas said. All have been negative.

Random testing will be conducted throughout the semester.

“We’re a small university, we’re in a rural area, so we feel we’re in a safe environment, especially with the plans we have in place,” Thomas said. “Our students want to come back to the university and we’re excited that they want to come back.”

Many students and their families have expressed that they want face-to-face learning, he said.

“In terms of being here, there’s a certain kind of experience you get here at Central State and the family kind of environment, nurturing environment, that students need. I feel that’s why they’re so excited to be here,” Thomas said.

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Resident assistants and the Pirate Ambassadors returned to campus last week. Other upperclassmen will get to campus this weekend.

Central State will limit private and public gatherings to no more than 10 people, the university said. Thomas said the university is giving personal protective equipment packages to students.

The school has designated spaces where students will quarantine if they get sick, he said.

Wendy Hayes, vice president of student affairs, said students were permitted to bring two family members to help them move in. Everyone had to have their temperature checked when they arrived on campus.

“Students are excited to be here,” Hayes said. “This is a different normal, especially if they’ve been around their families and didn’t have to social distance from their household, but now have to social distance from their friends.”

Move-in campus activities were adjusted to comply with safety protocols. Activities planned throughout move-in days, including lunch and dinner, are on staggered schedules to ensure students maintain social distancing.

Pirate Week, the annual orientation for new students coming to Central State, will be virtual this year. This year’s event will be take place on Facebook live with featured guest speakers, student spotlights, and a message from Thomas.

“We’re excited about the model we’ve created for bringing students back and we feel that will help us in terms of being a safe university,” Thomas said.

The president said he feels safe because they will be testing everybody on campus at the historically black university. It was important to test everyone on campus, he said, because of the way the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted minorities.

In an interview last week, Dr. Karen Mathews, Central State’s executive director of health and psychological services, echoed that sentiment.

“We looked at our population, which has certain vulnerabilities and risk factors, given the demographics of our students,” she said. “And we’ve also learned from the experience of other universities that have opened earlier than ours. And based on that, we opted to go ahead and do some more aggressive testing.”

“These are unprecedented times and there are uncertain times,” Thomas said, “but at the same time, we have an opportunity to do some wonderful things here.”

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