Questions about the administration’s transparency in its COVID-19 reporting arose after Kenyon announced its second positive COVID-19 test last Thursday. Another positive case was reported today on Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard, making the total case count three.
In the College’s announcement last Thursday, Director of Cox Health and Counseling Center Chris Smith simply called the case “unusual,” sparking confusion throughout the community.
Smith has since clarified what made the case so unusual: A positive test does not necessarily equate to a positive case of COVID-19. A person who once tested positive for the virus may still have dead virus cells in their body, even if they are no longer contagious. According to the CDC website, a person who tested positive for COVID-19 can be around others 10 days after symptoms first appear, and after at least 24 hours without a fever.
“If that virus is present in someone’s body, then that test will be positive,” he said. “Now, just because there’s a virus in a person’s body, doesn’t mean that there’s an active case going on. What that could mean is that that person is on the tail end of their illness. And maybe that test is still picking it up.”
Amid the uncertainty, a student, who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, came forward to the Collegian and said that the positive test was theirs. On Aug. 23, the day before their intended return to campus, one of the student’s parents had tested positive for the virus. Days later, on Aug. 28, the student had tested positive as well. Their return to campus was postponed because of the positive test result.
“The Health Center thankfully sent an email back the night [of Aug. 23], saying ‘don’t come [to campus] tomorrow, but we’ll talk to you and figure everything out,’” the student said.
The student had been sent an official EverlyWell test by the College, but since they had already been tested locally, the administration informed them that they did not need to take it. It was only when they were to return to campus in September that Kenyon asked them to administer the EverlyWell test, which came back positive despite the student no longer being contagious — which is why the test result did not show up on the Dashboard until Sept. 10.
Upon learning of the student’s positive test result in August, the Health Center advised the student to quarantine in their home for 10 days before they could be considered to return to campus. During this 10-day window, the student reported that they received little word from the administration as to when they would be allowed to return to campus, or what the protocols would be. On Sept. 4, Dean of Students Robin Hart Ruthenbeck provided them with information about their return.
Throughout their quarantine period at home, the student took a series of tests and was finally given permission from more than one public health official to return to campus. Despite having the approval of these officials, the College made the decision to quarantine the student upon their arrival in Gambier on Sept. 5.
“I was cleared by two medical professionals and the Knox County Health Department — all referencing CDC guidelines — but Kenyon’s administration decided to quarantine me upon arrival regardless, as a precautionary measure,” they wrote in a text message to the Collegian.
On Sept. 5, the student arrived on campus, though it was not the return they had expected. They were placed immediately into an uncleaned house that lacked Wi-Fi, a necessity for remote learning. Located next to the New Apartments’ parking lot, the building was not originally listed as one of the College’s quarantine locations. This made the student feel as if Kenyon’s quarantine process was rushed and unplanned.
“The main reason they let me come back [to Gambier] was because I explained how I was falling behind in my classes, and how I didn’t have my textbooks,” they said. “And then they put me in a house that didn’t have any Wi-Fi.”
Additionally, the student said that the house was dusty. Because they suffered from asthma — and had just recovered from a respiratory illness — the student found it difficult to breathe inside the building.
When asked about specific buildings used for quarantine, Smith said that the Comfort Inn had not quite been ready for use when the student initially arrived, and so buildings not on the official list were used in the meantime.
“There was a little delay in opening up the Comfort Inn for students who may have needed it,” he said. “Figuring out where to quarantine students has definitely been evolving, but we’ve prioritized the Comfort Inn as the spot that will be available for students in quarantine or isolation.”
After arriving at the house and discovering the state it was in, the student and their parents quickly contacted Ruthenbeck, who, according to the student, “apologized profusely.”
“Robin was very surprised to hear that the house was covered in filth, and said, ‘We’re going to get someone to get Wi-Fi in the house,’ and I’m really grateful for all of her help in my transition process,” they said. “But it was just the fact that it didn’t even feel like [the College] was prepared to deal with my situation.”
The student was soon relocated to a North Campus Apartment, which they said was clean and had Wi-Fi, and stayed there until Sept. 7. Shortly thereafter, the student was able to move into their dorm and attend classes in person. They have since tested negative for the virus.
Reflecting on the entire situation, the student felt as though the College could have shown more compassion as they navigated through the rocky process. “I’m not trying to criticize the school for being overcautious,” they said. “I just don’t want the next kid who goes through the protocol to feel as helpless and as scared as I did.”