UPDATE: South Orange Village Prez to Meet With Seton Hall as University Reports 2nd COVID Case Since April

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Update, August 24: Village Green has learned there have been two on-campus cases of COVID-19 at SHU since April. One was reported on August 15 and the second on August 20. According to a SHU spokeswoman, both cases were reported to the South Orange Health Department and both students entered isolation after being diagnosed. Read more here.

As Seton Hall University reports its first on-campus case of COVID-19 since April, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said she will be meeting with University leadership on Monday, August 24, to discuss the University’s reopening.

The student-run news site The Setonian reported that the University sent an email to the University community on Monday, August 17, confirming the University’s first positive on-campus case of COVID-19 since April, for a cumulative total of 8 confirmed on-campus cases since the start of the pandemic.

The University will reopen for remote instruction for the fall semester on August 24, with plans for low-density, in-person classes and indoor dining to begin on August 31. Village Green has twice requested more information from the University but has not yet received a response. The University’s reopening plan states that on-campus housing will be at reduced occupancy rates; many Seton Hall students also live off-campus in the South Orange community.

At its last Board of Health meeting on July 27, South Orange Trustee Karen Hilton noted that, although South Orange’s COVID numbers “have been relatively small compared to other communities and the nation … we’ve seen an uptick in the past month.”

Village President Collum noted that the new cases were “a mixed bag of out-of-state travel, backyard gatherings, [and] through a contact trace, ‘don’t know.'”

“I’m a little concerned about a spike we’re seeing in South Orange. We’ve had 9 positive test cases in the past week,” said Collum at the time. “The prior week had 0. This brings our totals to 116 positives and 1,979 negatives. Sadly, we have lost 4 members of our South Orange community to COVID-19.”

The spike seems to have slowed in August. Collum reports that, as of August 23, the Township has recorded 121 positive COVID-19 cases and 2,714 negative tests. The number of deaths remains at four.

Visit the southorange.org COVID-19 portal here. 

Meanwhile, The Setonian also reported that the faculty senate voted on Wednesday asking that the University grant all faculty requests to teach remotely “based on their own assessment of safety and pedagogical goals.” Currently, per a June message from the University’s Re-Opening Operations Team — “faculty, staff and administrators were told that they may request to work from home by requesting a medical accommodation if they fell into a high-risk category for the coronavirus. All other personnel asking for changes not medical related could request an adjustment, which, instead of being handled through the University’s Human Resource department, would be filed through the ‘department and college levels.’”

The Setonian reports that faculty senate “cited a lack of transparency in the University’s adjustment and accommodation procedures and alleged that some faculty were ‘discouraged’ to submit requests to teach remotely, and that “16% of the faculty have filed 112 accommodations and 65 adjustment requests as of Wednesday [August 19], though according to a faculty survey, 57% of professors surveyed said that they would prefer to deliver their courses remotely for the fall.”

With the announcement of the new COVID-19 case, the University sought to assure the campus community of safety protocols that were in place for the physical re-opening. Read a summary and see the full University reopening plan here.

“We want to consider ourselves caring members of the community; that’s important to us,” said SHU spokeswoman Laurie Pine in a phone interview on Monday morning. “We want to make everything transparent; we want to be a good neighbor.”

After N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy announced an executive order allowing colleges and universities statewide to resume in-person classes, Seton Hall announced that it would offer a hybrid semester.

Local school districts, such as South Orange-Maplewood and Millburn recently announced all-remote starts to the 2020-21 school year.

According to US News & World Report, Seton Hall University undergraduate enrollment is 6,136 students. South Orange’s estimated 2019 population was 16,691.

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