On December 22, President Raymond announced that Haverford would be delaying the spring semester, with classes starting on February 12, in response to CDC predictions that COVID-19 cases would soar after the holidays.
By the time Haverford students returned to campus, the CDC’s predictions had come true. The number of daily cases in the United States soared from 151,021 on Thanksgiving to an unprecedented 315,179 cases on January 8. This record-breaking number was recorded just a few weeks before many students were expected back on college campuses across the country. By January 26, when many students returned to various college campuses, the number of cases had decreased to a still-alarming 148,827 per day.
While Haverford and Bryn Mawr decided to push their semesters back, other Philadelphia-region schools, including Villanova University, just three miles away, did not. As a result, on February 4, as Haverford students were first starting to move back onto campus, Villanova recorded 77 new cases in one day, its highest number—an outbreak strongly correlated with recruitment week for Greek life at the university.
Although the flood of new infections slowed by early March, the Villanova’s case count remains much higher on a per-student basis than at the Bi-Co’s. As of April 4, Villanova’s COVID-19 Dashboard reported 1,045 cumulative cases since January 19, with an estimated 1,013 recovered cases and 32 active cases. Of these 1,045 cases, 806 were residential students, 195 were non-residential students, and the rest were employees.
A January 31 article in The Villanovan student newspaper quoted a Villanova administrator on the origin of the outbreak: “A lot of the cases are from on-campus students, but those on-campus students have gone to larger off-campus gatherings.”
Despite these high case counts, some Villanova students felt good about the school’s handling of the situation. Audrey Trussel (Villanova ’23) said, “Villanova has done a great job at managing our cases!”After cases spiked, she said, the administration took action by putting in place a directive declaring that everyone stay on campus unless it’s necessary to leave. According to Trussel, “it really worked” at lowering the numbers.
The Haverford administration, on the other hand, made it clear that they did not want the college to follow Villanova’s trajectory. When Haverford students returned to campus, the administration was concerned about the Villanova outbreak—Dean Bylander referred to the university’s 500 active cases in her February 7 email with the subject line “Return to Campus Cautions.”
Despite these concerns, in the early weeks of the semester, some Haverford students snuck off to Villanova to hang out and even go to parties. It was this sort of behavior that ultimately sent students home and prompted the move to Level 3 of the college’s COVID mitigation plan.
As of February 26, Haverford moved back down to Level 1. While Bylander praised students for being respectful of all the COVID-19 protocols, she strongly warned, “We will remain vulnerable all spring.” Throughout her statement Bylander highlighted the ways students must remain vigilant in order to achieve the shared goals of an in-person graduation in May and “a closer to normal Haverford in the fall.”
On the whole, it seems Haverford’s stricter approach to handling COVID-19 has paid off. Haverford has only had three positive COVID-19 cases this semester—a far cry from Villanova’s outbreak. As Izzy Johnson ’22 joked: “Well, I know we’re handling Covid better than Villanova!”