NECC Prepares for Fall Return
Northern Essex Community College’s COVID Response Team, along with college maintenance staff, has been working for months to prepare the college’s campuses so that faculty, staff, students, and the community can safely return.
This fall, at least 25% of classes will be taught on campus, and it’s expected that most employees will be on campus by September as well.
While this represents a return to “normal”, Marissa Elliott, chair of the college’s COVID Response Team, wants to be sure everyone is aware of what’s been done behind the scenes to make sure the college’s campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence are as safe as possible.
“Throughout the pandemic, we took what the DPH (Department of Public Health) advised and went one step further,” she said. “We will continue to be cautious, even as more and more people become vaccinated and cases continue to wane.”
CARES Act Investments
Approximately $1.4 million in CARES Act funding has been invested to make the campus safer and help prevent the spread of the virus.
The college has purchased 96 air scrubbers—stand-alone virus killing machines—that will be placed in areas that have been calculated to have the highest traffic, meaning the most people for the longest period of time throughout the day. These air scrubbers capture the COVID virus as well as other viruses, mold, and allergens, replacing dirty air with clean air.
Also, the ducts on all campus buildings have been thoroughly cleaned and outfitted with MERV filters that capture mold, pollen, and more.
“We’ve invested in things that are going to make the campus safer on a lot of levels,” said Elliott. “It’s likely we will see fewer colds and other common viruses in addition to preventing COVID.”
At this time, anyone who has been fully vaccinated is not required to wear a mask, unless they are in a classroom.
Those who have not been vaccinated are asked to mask-up indoors, unless eating or in their offices alone.
Anyone who wants to wear a mask, whether vaccinated or not, is encouraged to do so, and the college has masks, including N95 masks, available upon request for free to faculty, staff, and students.
“Some people may be vaccinated but have family members at home who are at risk,” explains Elliott. “We are offering faculty, staff, and students N95 masks along with fit testing, hands-on instructions on wearing the masks correctly.”
“Swiss Cheese” Model
This past academic year, there were no cases of spread of COVID-19 in classrooms, a good indication of the effectiveness of the college’s mitigation efforts
Elliott credits the “well-rounded” COVID Response team, which includes representatives from public safety, public health, student affairs, academic affairs; a well-honed communication process that followed cases from initial report to resolution, providing emotional and medical support to those impacted; and the college’s approach to risk mitigation, which she explains as the “swiss cheese” model.
In the “swiss cheese” model, an unwanted outcome is prevented by installing a series of layers that effectively cover the holes or risks.
The layers that Northern Essex used to address the pandemic included implementing QR codes to track every person on campus; partnering with the DPH to get access to best practices; partnering with Greater Lawrence Family Health Center to make the vaccine accessible to the college community; hiring a private testing company; practicing social distancing, installing air filters; effective cleaning practices; and more.
“When a case was reported, we took action immediately,” said Elliott. “We would quickly move a class online for a week or two weeks to make sure everyone was safe. Our contact tracing was also incredibly intense.”
While people coming on campus will no longer be required to check in using the QR code, the QR codes will remain posted and can be activated if the need arises.
Resources Are Available
Anyone with questions related to COVID or in need of supplies is encouraged to reach out to the COVID Response Team, which continues to meet regularly.
Supplies on hand include masks of all kinds, including the N95 masks; disposable gloves; hand sanitizers; and virus-killing cleaning sprays and more. Order here.
To get questions answered, students should email firstname.lastname@example.org and faculty and staff should contact email@example.com.