On Wednesday, the College announced in a News Bulletin that the campus would return to a low level of alert on Thursday morning, thus ending the quiet period. This follows the confirmation of one positive COVID-19 test after the College tested all on-campus students last week, as well as a positive case in the Village on Oct. 27 and elevated levels of virus in recent wastewater samples.
“We are monitoring the data closely — wastewater tests in the Village of Gambier, Knox County case data and alerts, guidance from the State of Ohio. As we know from experience, conditions can change quickly and we may need to adjust our alert levels again as necessary,” the News Bulletin stated.
As of this morning, the servery, study lounges, common spaces and the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) are now open. Additionally, students are permitted to gather in groups of 10 or fewer and each student is allowed one guest in their room at a time. All tours are to resume by appointment only, and in-person classes are continuing as scheduled. These operations reflect the protocols in place before the quiet period.
The College has not yet received all employee test results from this week. However, President Sean Decatur said that these results were not necessary to change the alert status from moderate to low, feeling confident in the number of negative student results received thus far.
“All [but one] of the individual tests have come back negative for students, and the major things that are curtailed in going to moderate are dining in Peirce, and then fitness and the KAC, and those are primarily student-to-student interactions,” he said.
Furthermore, as of an Oct. 22 sample, Gambier’s wastewater levels indicate no further spread of the virus beyond the two recent cases. Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski, who chairs the Wastewater Testing subcommittee of the Public Health Working Group, alerted the community of the news in an email sent on Wednesday. “The level indicates virus shedding consistent with recovery of the two known cases in the Village of Gambier, including one Kenyon case,” they wrote.
The decision to move back to a low alert level comes after Decatur’s Oct. 23 News Bulletin, in which he announced the extension of the quiet period until the College received more conclusive COVID-19 test results. At the time, only ⅔ of all student test results had been received. The following day, the College sent a News Bulletin confirming one positive test.
According to Director of Cox Health and Counseling Center Chris Smith, the COVID-19 Steering Committee received notice of the positive result about an hour after Decatur sent the Oct. 23 News Bulletin. Despite this notification, the College did not announce the case until the next day, and it did not show up on the COVID-19 Dashboard until Monday.
Smith, when asked about the time discrepancy, did not provide a clear answer about the College’s decision to delay the announcement.
As of Thursday afternoon, seven students are in quarantine, which is down from nine students on Tuesday. Smith spoke of Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for those who might have come into contact with the positive case, saying that Knox Public Health (KPH) alerts any person who was within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more. Although KPH is responsible for notifying those who were in close contact with the positive case, Smith also called each quarantined student on Tuesday to talk them through the quarantine procedure and answer any questions they had.
After Smith made these calls, a student in quarantine, who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, came forward to the Collegian with criticism of the College’s quarantine and testing procedures. The student is currently quarantining in their dorm room after receiving notification from Knox Public Health that they were considered a close contact to the positive case.
The anonymous student said that the College’s quarantine protocol was loose and that there was “no real way to enforce it.” Although KPH told the student they could not leave their room except to go to the bathroom, the College informed all of the close contacts who are in quarantine that they would still be allowed to go to Peirce Dining Hall to obtain their meals; the student found this concerning.
“You mean to tell me that you’re letting kids who interacted with a positive case go to Peirce?” the student said. “Is that safe?”
According to Decatur, students in quarantine generally should not leave their rooms and food should be delivered to them. “Food is brought in [and] you’re expected not to leave your room and your space,” he said.
However, Smith stressed that as long as the quarantined students follow proper public health protocols — wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing — the risk for transmission in Peirce is low. He emphasized that these students should be in and out of Peirce “within 10 [minutes],” which is not long enough to be considered a close contact with others under current CDC guidelines. It is unclear why Decatur and Smith had different interpretations of quarantine protocol.
Smith also noted that, for quarantined students, leaving the confines of a dorm room was an important factor in maintaining mental health. “To stay in your room all day, every day, it would drive you up the walls,” he said. “Being able to put on a mask, to stretch your legs to walk and get some cold fresh air, as you’re coming to and from Peirce … From a human standpoint, that is important.”
The student also worried that the College would not be testing them and other close contacts until Nov. 2, 10 days after they had been placed in quarantine, potentially exposing others while not in complete isolation before testing positive for COVID-19.
“We’re playing a guessing game with our health and lives,” the student said. “My life shouldn’t be a guessing game of whether I have COVID-19 or not.”
To mediate student anxiety, a health center staff nurse calls each student in quarantine daily to monitor for symptoms. Smith said that students who develop symptoms will be evaluated by the College.
Smith explained that the College was still abiding by CDC guidelines for testing close contacts. “There’s a recommendation that there’s testing [for people in quarantine], if the local jurisdiction has the capacity,” he said. For the College, that local jurisdiction is KPH, who assumes the responsibility for positive cases and their close contacts. As a result, Smith said, KPH — not the College — decides whether to test the students in quarantine.
“And this is the fact of the matter: Testing changes nothing,” he said. “Even if they get a negative test, they still have to complete all 14 days of quarantine.”
All students in residence will follow the testing schedule that Decatur sent out on Monday. The second round of testing began at the start of this week and will continue until Nov. 4, with students being tested twice more before their departure on Nov. 25.
The most recent COVID-19 updates can be found on the College’s COVID-19 Dashboard.