Section: News

One positive case recorded after initial COVID-19 testing

One positive case recorded after initial COVID-19 testing

Upon their return to the College, students were immediately tested at the Kenyon Athletic Center. | Sara Haleblian

Initial testing of students and employees for COVID-19 began Aug. 21 as students returned to campus. 

Upon their arrival to the Hill, students were directed to the Kenyon Athletic Center’s track, where they waited in socially distanced lines to enter testing pods separated by curtains. Students were given self-administered nasal swab tests produced by EverlyWell. These tests cannot be used by minors, so students under the age of 18 were sent to a designated testing pod and given an oral pharyngeal swab test, processed by Gnome Dx and administered by the College’s athletic trainers.

Once in the testing pod, students self-administering tests were instructed to watch a video that walked them through the process of collecting their sample. Professional staff were available to assist students and answer questions as needed. Recounting the initial testing experience, Sarah Ganz ’23 said, “If I ever had any questions, there was someone right outside, which was really nice, and everyone was just so friendly at the testing. It was a nice environment.”

As of Sept. 2, a total of 1,814 COVID-19 tests have been administered since testing began on Aug. 21. In the previous seven days, 1,321 tests have been administered. Only one positive case has been confirmed: an employee who has been working remotely. Smith and others who have access to the corporate COVID-19 dashboard were notified immediately of the positive. Human Resources and the local public health department were notified soon after and reached out to the employee to provide guidance on return-to-work protocols. “[The process] went as smooth as can be,” Smith said. “And if we can keep the positives low, then that’ll make our lives a whole lot easier … Prevention, prevention, prevention, prevention.” 

Students who received the Gnome Dx test were informed of their results within 24 to 48 hours, whereas students who self-administered the EverlyWell test received their results within 48 to 72 hours. As of Sept. 2, approximately 160 students have experienced delays in receiving their results. 

Both tests were polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. “That’s the gold standard right now for COVID testing,” said Director of Cox Health and Counseling Center Chris Smith. According to Smith, PCR tests are considered “confirmatory testing,” by local public health authorities, meaning that the likelihood of false negative, while always possible, is very low. “If you get enough swab on there, you’re going to get a definitive yes or no,” he said. “The only reason that you would not get a yes or a no, is if there is a quantity not sufficient on that swab, and that could be for either of the test kits.” 

If the test was not self-administered properly, the student was notified by EverlyWell of an insufficient sample and instructed to retake the rest. This means that a large enough sample was not gathered by the initial test to detect whether they were infected with the virus. Other student errors were potential reasons for an inconclusive test result, such as completing the packaging improperly upon submitting the kit, or listing an incorrect date which signaled that the sample may be invalid. Students whose tests fell into these scenarios were similarly contacted by EverlyWell and retested. 

Most employees received the same self-administered EverlyWell test by mail the week of Aug. 17. Employees were expected to complete the test and mail it back on the same day it was received, and, as with students, results were delivered from EverlyWell via text, email or phone call 72 hours later. 

EverlyWell’s self-administered test was chosen for a number of reasons. Indicating the importance of a self-administered test, Smith said,“From a simplicity standpoint, we have to get through … 100 percent of the student body that is in residence. There is no way that we can do that, having even all of the health professionals in this college working at the same time.” He also noted that EverlyWell is “one of the few companies that actually already has their [FDA] approval,” which was a factor in choosing to work with them. Additionally, EverlyWell was able to meet the College’s high demand for tests, whereas other vendors were not.  

Until the second round of baseline testing has been completed on Sept. 4, students have been asked to self-isolate and refrain from all non-essential movement and social gatherings in what has been called the quiet period. Even with general adherence to the quiet period guidelines, there have been some incidents of student non-compliance. 

“You’re expected to [quarantine], but not like it’s not like everybody does it,” said Coco Liu ’22, noting that she was aware of social gatherings that took place during the quiet period, in some cases before people had received their test results. “I think that once the results came back negative, a lot of people have gathered around definitely more than before. And a lot of people I don’t think are social distancing, even if their results didn’t come back [yet],” she said, remembering a particular party at the North Campus Apartments several weekends ago that she found out about on social media. 

Despite these few instances of noncompliance to the regulations, the student response and adherence to College policies has largely been cooperative. Extracurricular activities may begin to meet once the quiet period ends on Sept. 4, and there are guidelines for safe small gatherings posted on Kenyon’s website. In order to signal to the community when extra precautions may be needed in the case of an increased presence of COVID-19 during the semester, amongst other factors, the College has established three levels of alert. Additionally, a Student-Info COVID-19 Dashboard Weekly Update email sent on Sept. 2 stated that “the College has developed and revised a Pandemic Operations Plan, which defines and describes the institution’s approach to operating its residential campus and associated activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Although all student tests have so far come back negative, closely and consistently following the College’s precautionary guidelines — including wearing a mask or face covering, social distancing by at least six feet, washing hands frequently with soap and warm water and avoiding large gatherings  — is crucial to limit spread of COVID-19 so that students can remain on campus for the whole semester. “In a few weeks, if we don’t have a large amount of coronavirus …  on campus, that is no reason for us to discontinue the practices that are going to prevent the spread of this pandemic,” Smith said, emphasizing the importance of consistency in responsible behaviors and adhering to the rules. “Every rule that we’ve put in place is not to take away the fun from any collegiate experience. What we’re trying to do is actually make sure that we’re doing everything possible to get you all through a full semester.”.  

A second round of testing started Aug. 3 and continues this week until Sept. 4, in order to correct and confirm any false-negative results collected during the initial testing period. Following this second round of testing will be a third baseline round starting Sept. 7, after which every student will be tested at least once a month until the end of the semester. Additionally, continual wastewater testing in the interim of student testing will signal whether or not COVID-19 is present in the community. 

Smith reiterated the importance of student responsibility in preventing and mitigating viral breakouts, stating, “If we follow the rules, we can theoretically do this. And if we don’t follow the rules, then the outcome will look like many of our peers who have already made it in the national news that they brought students back in, then they had to go home early.”

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