As classes for the fall semester draw to an end this week, the college has seen a last-minute spike in positive tests for Covid-19, with six active cases as of Nov. 18, spanning three students, two staff members and one faculty member. In response, the college has reinstated strict health and safety guidelines that it had previously eased along with instituting new ones, including the cancellation of in-person events, restricted access to buildings outside of one’s residence hall and limiting gatherings to a maximum of three people.
Before Nov. 11, when the first of the six active cases were announced, the college had four active cases cumulatively since its testing program launched on July 13, the most recent of which was a staff member that tested positive on Oct. 9. The increase in cases on-campus mirrors a national upswing in positive tests, which crossed a rate of one million per week in recent days.
The first of the current active cases, on Nov. 11, involved a student who was immediately moved into isolation, along with three other students who were moved to quarantine. The next set of cases came on Nov. 16, when two students and one faculty member tested positive, which also caused seven additional students and one other faculty member to transition to quarantine. On Nov. 17, the college reported that two asymptomatic staff members had also tested positive, and that one student and six staff members in close contact with them would be moved to quarantine.
The 14-day quarantine period and the 10-day isolation period notably means that, despite Thanksgiving break beginning on Nov. 23, many of the affected students will be required to remain on campus into the break. Students living on campus are expected to move out by Nov. 25, barring extraordinary cases such as those in quarantine or isolation.
After the cases on Nov. 16 were reported, Dean of Students Liz Agosto announced a set of new Covid-19 protocols “out of an abundance of caution and in furtherance of our shared goal that students who are departing campus can travel home as planned and without risk of infection to their families and communities” in an email to on-campus students. The protocols include prohibitions on gatherings over three people, recommendations against in-person interaction at meals, the closure of most buildings except for academic purposes and the cancellation of in-person events.
According to Chief Communications Officer Sandy Genelius, the college has not found any evidence linking the cases. “Our contact tracing efforts have not identified a source of these most recent transmissions or any connection between the cases,” she said. “We are documenting and following up on any information we received about violations of Covid-19 policies but, at this point, do not have any information that connects specific violations of policy with the positive cases.”
Agosto, however, noted that the college is “also aware that there were a number of unauthorized gatherings this past weekend that were in excess of the group size limit and at which students were not wearing masks, which sets up the potential for significant community spread.”
Genelius said that the college is working to provide accommodations for those who have had their departure from campus disrupted. “Each individual student situation is unique and we are working with each on rearranging any travel and to offer enough space to pack and transition away from campus,” she said. For the isolated and quarantined faculty members, Genelius indicated that they “will continue to teach the remainder of their courses, assuming they feel well enough to do so.”
Although the college’s operating status — which denotes how restricted activities are on campus in relation to the coronavirus — remains at “Level 2: Heightened Awareness,” Agosto mentioned that the college is “monitoring the situation closely and will consider moving the ‘Level 3: Modified Operations, Localized Restricted Movement’ if we see evidence of further community spread of the virus.”
“There are now three students in isolation and 10 students in quarantine, many of whom will not be able to travel home as originally intended for the winter break,” Agosto concluded. “We understand how distressing this may be for those affected and how difficult these new restrictions may be for others in the community. We also feel they are necessary to try to minimize the risk of other students being impacted.”