Pierce College has undergone multiple changes from canceling classes to shifting toward an online semester due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, and the campus is providing resources to help ease students’ anxiety.
Psychology instructor Angela Belden said as panic rises due to fear, people use coping skills such as comfort to handle the sudden anxiety.
“They’re designed to make us feel better and we try not to judge,” Belden said. “One coping mechanism is better than another coping mechanism. Certainly coping mechanisms that are harmful to you or harmful to someone else are not recommended, but these are coping mechanisms nonetheless. For some people, they just needed to go out and buy another 24-pack of toilet paper to feel better, because they just felt like they didn’t have enough and they felt like they didn’t have the information.”
The way people react can be damaging, which is why it is important for the right information to get out and reach the public.
“What is difficult to grapple with is when the people who weren’t able to go out and get that, then they don’t have any,” Belden said. “That really creates some scarcity and of course, scarcity creates fear and then that snowballs and then it creates other things difficult for people to deal with.”
She thinks the situation is ever-changing and things are evolving.
“We got information last Wednesday, and then that information changed on Saturday,” Belden said. “And I think one of the things that we have to do is wait and see, which is really hard, right? We plan our courses, we plan our things, we plan our whole semester out and we plan our whole life out. So, we’d like to know things in advance. We like to have things set and ready.”
All colleges within the Los Angeles Community College District are adjusting their schedules to give everyone time to adjust and self-quarantine if necessary. Many instructors are over 65 and are ordered to stay in their homes due to their high risk of contracting the virus.
“We’re feeling that stress and anxiety, so we know students are feeling it as well,” Belden said. “We have to be very empathetic for everybody because our administration is feeling it. Our district is feeling it. Our government is feeling it. Everybody is feeling this. We’re all in this pandemic together.”
Belden said there are ongoing concerns about what will happen for graduation ceremonies as everything switches to an online platform.
“Just because there’s no ceremony doesn’t mean you don’t get a degree,” Belden said. “So rest assured that you can still get your degree this semester if you are on track for doing that.”
Belden said even though many student services are ordered to close, the Child Development Center will stay open this week to help support student parents while they search for an alternative childcare provider.
She said it is important for students to prioritize their mental health and take safe breaks from the media.
“We know that our mental health is so important and it’s very easy to be distracted,” Belden said. “So I would urge students, when you’re ready to sit down and do your coursework, try to schedule yourself a quiet space and a quiet time if that’s available to you. Try to shut off your social media if that’s possible.”
Librarian Lisa Valdez said the library is doing what they can to provide resources to students while they are closed for the next two weeks.
“The library does have online chat. So that’s 24 hours, seven days a week, so they can ask questions,” Valdez said. “The hard part is now a struggle with access, computers and the internet.”
The library is going to continue to offer online resources to students while instructors are waiting to receive their Canvas shells.
“We’re hoping we can be open to at least the students who do not have access, at least even if it is limited to just the people who need to use the computer,” Valdez said. “If we could just do that, that would be huge and that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Valdez said publishers are offering free e-textbooks for students to help ease the issue of not having library access.
“We have been seeing that Cengage and Pearson are going to open up their sites so that students can access all their books for free,” Valdez said. “We are hoping that things blow over and kind of settle down by the time spring break is over.”
Valdez said she is concerned for students that spend a lot of their time in the library who might not have a place to stay.
“While school is closed, we will still be trying to do some outreach the best way we can find the limitations that we have,” Valdez said. “The students are still our priority and we still want to make sure that they have as much as we can possibly give them.”
The library is also working on customized videos to help guide students with using online platforms for their respective courses, according to Valdez.
“We’re here doing our own professional development where we are making videos, instructional videos for classes so that when you do go online, if you have an assignment, we’ll do pre-recorded videos about how to use the resources for specific assignments,” Valdez said.
She said the library is even customizing videos for professors to use for their classes.
“The great thing is that you’ll be able to go back to them when you need them,” Valdez said.
Valdez said there are some things that our society needs to learn to do when disaster strikes.
“We live in a society where we have instant gratification for so many things,” Valdez said. “We take so many things for granted that we’re going to have to relearn how to do a lot of different things and we’re going to have to learn how to go without. I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Student Health Center Director Beth Benne said the shift to online is an ongoing process and that spring break has moved to compensate for the change.
According to Benne, the center is also trying to move online, but it depends on if the center’s staff is allowed to be on campus.
“We will be here and we will schedule appointments to see students, except for next week because next week is our spring break and everybody’s off,” Benne said.
Benne said a big challenge the health center is facing is being compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“It needs to be known the administration is tallying up who needs hardware and what kind of hardware to work from home,” Benne said. “In our case, we have an added wrinkle because if we work from home if we do anything remotely resembling telemedicine or tele counseling. We have to be HIPAA compliant and HIPAA is the FERPA for medical.”
Zoom is an online platform that professors will use to conduct classes online, but Benne says there’s issues with the health center using Zoom.
“We have been told that we could do Zoom, but it’s not HIPAA compliant unless we pay a $200 a month fee,” Benne said. “That’s challenging because we just found that out on Monday so we don’t know about getting a contract.”
Benne is considering using Cranium Cafe, Premium Cafe and Doxy.me, but she has to research if they’re HIPAA compliant.
According to Benne, the most important thing students can do is maintain consistent hygiene practices.
“Hand washing and social distancing that’s really, really important,” Benne said.
To help prevent COVID-19 from spreading, Benne urges people to use their shoulders or some kind of fabric when sneezing or coughing.
“It makes the droplet nuclei heavier, and they settle faster,” Benne said. “That’s the good news.”
Benne said the virus is not airborne, so people do not have to be concerned that they will catch it from long distances.
“What I heard on one of the webinars I attended is that this is droplet nuclei, not necessarily airborne, meaning when you cough and sneeze, any viral particles are heavier and they drop so they drop to the ground,” Benne said. “Those droplet nuclei can land on surfaces, doorknobs, floors, tabletops, desktops, keyboards etc. That’s why our plant facilities are bending over backwards trying to get everything cleaned up as fast as they’re contaminated. But again, it’s a domino effect.”
The Health Center’s website is updating its information to keep students informed of what they can do to stay safe until further notice.
“Health care is really important. I think not panicking is really important,” Benne said. “We have text information on the homepage of the Health Center. We have resource pages on our website. I’m trying desperately to get a Canvas shell up for the Health Center.”