South Orange Demands Transparency From Seton Hall Re: COVID Cases As Students Return to Campus

by The Village Green
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South Orange Township and Seton Hall University officials will meet weekly as the University reopens for remote instruction for the fall semester, after the University informed students of its first two positive on-campus COVID-19 cases since April.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum announced the measure at the August 24 Board of Health meeting, saying she and other town officials had met with Seton Hall administrators earlier in the day “to ensure compliance” with state COVID-19 restrictions.

Collum and Board of Health President Donna Coallier also reported that the Township would be providing a form from Seton Hall that residents can use to report non-compliance by Seton Hall students. A link to the form will be posted on the SouthOrange.org website.

Coallier reported in a followup email that the form can be submitted by residents “to report students that are not in compliance with the Pledge that students take to keep themselves and others safe. The Pledge applies to both on and off campus activities and students who do not comply are subject to sanctions as laid out in their Student Code of Contact [sic], which can include expelling students.”

Collum noted that the “actions or inactions” of the University could have “a very large impact on our Village,” as the Township has managed to be an “anomaly” in Essex County with its relatively low number of positive cases. Collum said that the low numbers were “a testament to people heeding the guidance of the state and CDC.”

“It was very, very, very critical for us to have this meeting today,” said Collum.

She said that the Township was insisting on coordination with the University: “A big message that we sent: we absolutely have to be involved. Anything less than a full partnership will not be acceptable.”

Collum noted that even though the University is divided from the community by gates, “the virus does not care about boundaries and borders.”

She also reported that the Township was demanding full transparency from the University and that any news of positive cases be forwarded to the Township “in a very timely fashion” even if they involved students or staff who do not live in South Orange.

On a positive note, Collum said that Seton Hall administrators “were open to heeding the guidance of our professionals.”

Collum went into a lengthy explanation of the difficulty of legally enforcing mask wearing, but said that the Township is discussing the possibility of Seton Hall creating an ambassador program similar to efforts in South Orange and Maplewood to promote social distancing and mask wearing.

Collum said that vigilance was necessary to protect residents of South Orange and neighboring towns as students were coming “potentially from other parts of the country who may have different attitudes” about the virus.

“All it takes is one case,” said Collum.

“Without a doubt, we can and must do better.”

A message from South Orange Board of Health President Donna Coallier:

Welcome back Seton Hall students;

I’m sure I speak for our entire governing body and our business community when I say we’re very excited to see you all back on and off campus. As the President of the Board of Health, I’d like to share that we have fared relatively well in dealing with COVID here in South Orange, with per capita positive test results and death rates well below those experienced in similarly situated municipalities in Essex County and across the State.

Please help us to continue this positive trajectory! The Seton Hall Pledge, which you’ve all agreed to, addresses how you as members of the Pirate Community can chip in to combat COVID in off campus life.

Specifically, the pledge states, “I will protect others by:

  • Maintaining appropriate physical distancing in all settings, both on and off campuses.
  • Wearing an appropriate face mask in public settings on and off campus, classrooms, hallways, campus pathways, common
    workspaces, meeting rooms, and gathering spaces.”

We also remind you that indoor gatherings in excess of 25% of the room capacity and 25 people max and outdoor gatherings in excess of 500 people with social distance practicing are prohibited by state law. We trust that you’ll all act responsibly and follow both the pledge and related local, county and state law – thank you for your part in keeping yourselves and your local community safe and healthy. We are hoping that there will be very few outliers who instead take a path that puts themselves or local residents at risk of COVID hospitalization or worse, death. We have been assured by SHU leadership that those that do violate the pledge and/or related law will be subject to the sanctions listed in the Student Code of Conduct as well as any legal consequences indicated by said actions.

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