Seminaries, colleges take steps to address COVID concerns

NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist seminaries and affiliated colleges are taking a position of following COVID-19 recommendations while allowing room for individual choices as a surge in cases continues, driven largely by the highly contagious Delta variant.

Gateway Seminary

Located in a state with some of the more stringent COVID-19 recommendations, Gateway Seminary Director of Communications Tyler Sanders said the school would work to comply with local guidelines.

Masks and social distancing are recommended for anyone on campus who is vaccinated and required for those who are unvaccinated. Should a state or local government of a Gateway campus require masks and social distancing regardless of vaccination status, the seminary would cooperate. In addition to its California campuses in Ontario and San Francisco, Gateway also has locations in Denver, Phoenix and Vancouver.

The seminary’s online presence, which became robust prior to COVID, will continue to allow another option for learning.

“Gateway is continuing to offer in-person as well as video access classes,” said Jeff Iorg, Gateway president. “We are also resuming on-campus events like chapel this fall, though we are prepared to quickly transition to distance learning formats in the event of changing government policies.”

Midwestern Seminary

Compliance with state and local governments brings a different look for COVID regulations in Kansas City, where masks are not required on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Vaccinations, while not mandatory, are highly encouraged. So is following recommendations from the CDC, which encourages masks. Though masks aren’t required on campus, the school urged an attitude of respect toward those who choose to wear one.

A statement on Midwestern’s website said: “As we move forward out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to utilize wisdom, charity, and grace to one another as we serve each other in this way (Phil. 2:1-4). We understand the importance of adhering to the instructions from the authorities (Rom. 13:1-2) and will continue to monitor the recommendations of the CDC and the instructions from the Kansas City, MO Health Department.”

New Orleans Seminary

To comply with local and state mandates, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary currently requires masks indoors, the school told Baptist Press. When an individual is alone in an office, a mask is not required but should be readily available in case a guest or co-worker enters.

Vaccinations are strongly encouraged among faculty, staff and the student body, with President Jamie Dew having urged all to obtain them on multiple occasions, including at recent chapel services. On Sept. 9, the seminary will host a vaccination drive that includes the chance for NOBTS or Leavell College students to win a $100 gift card from the Louisiana Department of Health.

“Current state and city guidelines do not require, but encourage social distancing and capacity limits,” Dew said. “During campus events, chapel services and class sessions we encourage social distancing and are providing adequate space for those activities to practice social distancing, but we are not currently mandating.”

Southeastern Seminary

In accordance with local government recommendations, masks are encouraged on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Professors, however, are allowed to require masks in their classrooms.

Vaccines at Southeastern are strongly recommended, though not required. Those testing positive for COVID-19, whether vaccinated or not, will quarantine for 10 days starting from the point that symptoms appear. They may leave quarantine as symptoms improve or with no sign of a fever for 24 hours.

Vaccinated students who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 do not have to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic. Unvaccinated students are required to contact the Dean of Students office and quarantine for up to 10 days if they remain asymptomatic. Those students can leave quarantine within a week if they are asymptomatic and can produce a negative test result on the sixth or seventh day.

Southern Seminary

In Louisville, masks and face coverings are optional for those at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. Echoing the language of other schools, COVID-19 vaccination is “strongly encouraged,” with those who are hesitant urged to consult with their personal physician.

“There will be no return-to-campus [COVID-19] testing nor any routine testing throughout the semester,” said a statement on the SBTS website. “However, the Clinic will test on a voluntary and/or symptomatic basis all students, residents, or employees who wish to or need to be tested.”

Reflecting the efforts of other SBC schools, Southern is also providing stations throughout campus equipped with personal protective equipment such as temperature scanners, face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

Southwestern Seminary

Though not a mandate, all members of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College communities are “strongly encouraged” to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. On its website, SWBTS referred to that position as “a matter of personal responsibility and freedom of conscience.” All unvaccinated persons on campus, it added, should maintain a distance of three feet during all interactions.

Masks are strongly recommended for those who are with groups indoors, though individual faculty members can require masks in their classrooms at their discretion. Other events scheduled to be indoors will be moved outside. A seven-day quarantine for those who have traveled internationally, including incoming international students, will continue to be in effect.

The steps line up with Southwestern’s commitment to follow recommendations through Tarrant County officials, the school said.

Colleges

Several Southern Baptist-affiliated colleges and universities also encourage, but do not require, vaccinations among faculty, staff and students. That joins a call to personal responsibility in taking steps toward mitigating the impact of COVID’s spread.

Louisiana College pointed to the Wildcat Promise, developed specifically in regards to its responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it, faculty, staff and students are called on to “support the well-being of the College community” through steps such as practicing good hygiene, monitoring symptoms for COVID-19 and administering a daily temperature self-check.

Louisiana remains one of the current hot spots for COVID-19 cases in the nation. Louisiana College is in Rapides Parish, situated between Winn and Avoyelles parishes, which hold the two highest infection rates in the state.

Face coverings are optional and physical distancing not required at Oklahoma Baptist University. Individuals who exhibit at least one of an “A” list of symptoms such as a sore throat, a fever or equal to or above 100.4 degrees or new loss of taste or smell are recommended to test for COVID-19.

Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, updated its COVID protocols Aug. 25 to provide a “flexible approach” for “additional options to students to care for their personal health needs during this season.” Those steps include:

  • Classes providing a remote delivery option, when possible, for students choosing to learn outside of the classroom
  • University services such as dining facilities, library and the fitness center remaining open
  • Students who test positive returning home and if they are unable to do so, meals delivered to those who remain on campus.

In addition, masks will be required for indoor public spaces and social distancing is required where possible. In-person chapel services remain paused.

This article was written by Scott Barkley, national correspondent for Baptist Press. It was published on baptistpress.com.

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