Hopes for a shift back to an in-person commencement ceremony were turned away from Salisbury University graduates Thursday as President Charles Wight announced the state’s lowered coronavirus restrictions would not change the university’s plans for a mostly virtual celebration.
Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order March 9 that lifted capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, retail businesses, fitness centers and religious establishments beginning March 12. The order also eased restrictions on large outdoor venues, including Sea Gull Stadium, the potential site for an in-person ceremony.
University of Maryland, College Park is now exploring options to increase its in-person commencement attendance to as many as 12,000 people within Maryland Stadium, according to the university’s newspaper, The Diamondback. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 54,000.
Despite the moderate reopening of Sea Gull Stadium for spectators, Wight said the changes would still not be enough to accommodate an in-person commencement ceremony for SU.
“While some other Maryland institutions have announced outdoor, in-person Commencement ceremonies at their stadiums, these announcements mostly have been limited to those with seating for 25,000 to 50,000 people,” Wight said. “Sea Gull Stadium, on the other hand, has a maximum capacity of about 6,000, and that is reduced to just a few hundred when appropriate physical distancing is taken into consideration.”
The university is still planning to hold an in-person “grad walk” for spring graduates, Wight said.
Provost Project Manager Kim Meyer said spring graduates would be able to select individual time slots to bring two guests to Sea Gull Stadium, where a commencement stage will be assembled, over a period of a few days following virtual commencement ceremonies for each academic school.
The City of Salisbury has also imposed stricter limits on physical distancing, which are enforced at SU, according to Campus Health. Indoor gatherings may not exceed 15 individuals, and outdoor gatherings may not exceed 50 individuals.
Meanwhile, concerns have continued to mount nationwide over potential increases in coronavirus positivity rates on college campus as millions of passengers board flights daily to spring break destinations, per USA Today.
SU returned from its abbreviated two-day spring break Wednesday, which Wight said was implemented to curb excessive travel away from campus.
The university administered spring break makeup tests Wednesday and Thursday for individuals who were away from campus during their regularly scheduled testing times. SU is now testing as many as 1,200 campus members per day, said Megan Gresham, a nurse practitioner with Campus Health.
Campus community members who have been fully vaccinated will still need to remain in compliance with the university’s testing protocols, said Victoria Lentz, SU’s director of Student Health Services.
“The university health team is closely monitoring the science and the latest [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance surrounding the issue and that will inform our policies,” Lentz said.
Vaccinated students, faculty and staff will also still be required to wear masks and observe social distancing, Wight said.
SU has identified 14 coronavirus cases since over 3,640 tests administered since March 11, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. The campus still maintains a positivity rate under 1%.
Junior Brian Ricketts, who received his weekly COVID-19 test Wednesday following the break, said he is confident in the university’s preventative actions and in his peers’ decision-making to prevent excess spread of the virus on SU’s campus following the break.
“I trust Salisbury’s population to act responsibly, and I think the university is taking enough precautions to keep us safe while still giving us opportunities to see and interact with each other in person,” Ricketts said. “I think it’s a good fit for both.”
For more information on SU’s testing protocols or to view the latest university COVID-19 test results, visit https://www.salisbury.edu/coronavirus/testing-info.aspx.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of WyoFile.