Return to the Hill Committee announces plans for the spring 2021 semester

(Ciara O'Brien / McDaniel Free Press).

Amid surging COVID-19 cases, McDaniel will be housing approx. 1100 students and offering in person and hybrid courses on campus this spring semester, with additional safety measures in place.

“Over the last several weeks, the Return to the Hill Committee has been closely monitoring the trajectory of the COVID-19 virus nationally, regionally and here in Carroll County,” read an email sent to the McDaniel community on Jan. 11.

On Jan. 14, members of the Return to the Hill (RTTH) Committee hosted student and parent information sessions to provide updates.

There are three additional mandatory safety measures being implemented this semester: a seven day quarantine before arrival on campus, taking a COVID-19 rapid test upon move-in, and a limited community contact period during the first week of classes.

It is a “strong recommendation” that students get a PCR COVID test within seven days of returning to campus; however, it is not required. If a residential student tests positive to the rapid test upon their arrival back on campus, they will be required to return home immediately.

“Taking a COVID PCR test within 7 days prior to your return to campus and receiving a negative result reduces the likelihood that you are unknowingly COVID-19 positive, resulting in a positive rapid test on your arrival to campus and an immediate return home,” the email read.

Additionally, students must quarantine at home for seven days prior to their return to campus.

“If we have info that you haven’t been adhering to that seven day quarantine before arrival, we can turn you away,” said Liz Towle, Dean of Students.

The last measure students must take before arriving on campus is receiving, and providing verification for receiving, a flu vaccine. Prior to Jan. 25, students can email that verification to After Jan. 25, students must bring their verification with them to move-in. Those who received a flu shot on campus last fall do not have to provide verification. If students did not have a chance to get the flu shot during break or last fall, flu shots will be available during Check-In from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. as long as they have health insurance information.

“This time of year, influenza and COVID-19 are circulating at the same time. While getting a flu shot won’t prevent anyone from getting COVID-19, it could reduce risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19 and help prevent flu-related hospital visits,” the email reads.

Residence hall move-in will occur on Jan. 29, 30, 31 in the Gill Gym area. Students will be able to reserve their move-in time on Jan. 20, similar to making a reservation in Englar Dining Hall. Only one other person will be allowed to enter residence halls along with a student to move-in, in order to limit contact with other people as much as possible.

After flu shot logistics are assessed, professionals from Quest Diagnostics will administer COVID rapid tests. Results will be ready within 15 to 30 minutes.

“This is a rapid test that has 97 percent accuracy. We are very confident that this 2-step process will be effective and help students get off to a good start,” said Towle.

Students who have specific concerns about getting tested should contact the wellness center. Students can contact for questions related to personal circumstances.

“If students receive a positive test during move-in, they will not be moving in. They will receive a different test just to make sure, and be asked to isolate at home,” said Towle.

All residential students will be asked to participate in a required “Limited Community Contact Period” on-campus until Feb. 8, meaning that students will be asked to minimize in-person contact as much as possible.

Students will be able to leave their rooms for activities such as showering, using the bathroom, picking up food from Englar Dining Hall or one of the other dining options on campus, or picking up textbooks from the bookstore. Common student hang outs such as Hoover Library, Gill Gym, or the new Roj Student Center will not be open during this period.

Students that work off campus are encouraged to take this week off if possible, as off campus behavior is also discouraged. All classes will be conducted online during this period, including those labeled as hybrid or in person.

“It will be a very different, quiet, first week of classes,” said Towle.

Virtual campus services, such as Hoover Library, the Wellness Center, the Bursar’s office, the Financial Aid office, ODEI, and many more will still be open and available to students.

“Students are welcome to be outside as much as they like during any time period as long as they are socially distanced,” said Julia Jasken, Provost and future College president. Heaters will be implemented in two of the outdoor tents, and will most likely be turned on around meal times.

“It’s virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle… we’ve been learning from institutions that had large outbreaks at the beginning of the semester and had to close down early,” added Jasken.

All students will be required to complete a second COVID rapid test on either Feb. 5, 6, or, 7. Both required rapid tests will be provided free of charge by the College.

“Ending the on-campus Limited Community Contact period with a second rapid test will help ensure that residential students are not COVID positive prior to resuming higher risk on-campus activities. Offering rapid tests to commuters further ensures a healthy and safe start to the semester,” says the email.

Despite cancelling fall and winter sports, the Centennial Conference has yet to make a decision regarding sports in the spring.

“The gym is scheduled to reopen after the limited social contact period concludes with the same protocols from the fall,” said Jenni Glennon, Associate Vice President for Administration.

Commencement details will be announced during the first week of Feb.

For more information, visit the Return to the Hill webpage.