Section: News

Wastewater virus levels highest yet

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise both locally and nationally, the Dec. 3 Gambier wastewater samples showed that virus levels were the highest they have ever been, surpassing the record-breaking numbers from Nov. 30. Additionally, one more student tested positive for the virus on Dec. 1, bringing the total student case count to eight. 

Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard reports that, as of Wednesday, there are 207 active cases in Knox County and zero cases in Gambier, though the elevated wastewater report indicates that one or more cases may be discovered in the near future. 

Chair of the Wastewater Testing Subcommittee of the Public Health Working Group and Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski noted that the record-high virus levels in the wastewater likely indicate cases among the 700 Gambier residents, rather than from within the Kenyon community. This is because of the low number of students currently on campus and the fact that samples are collected from the entirety of the Village.

With only 66 students on campus, the College has placed them all in North Campus Apartments (NCAs) so that the Village can isolate student wastewater samples. According to Slonczewski, the NCA wastewater levels are also elevated, though exact numbers are still being calibrated.  

These results come as the state of Ohio recently surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 total cases, according to the Columbus Dispatch. One in every 23 Ohioans has contracted the virus, with the seven-day average positive rate increasing six-fold, from an average of 2.7% in late September to 16% this week. On Wednesday, 10,094 Ohioans tested positive for the virus. 

Though cases are rising, Ohio’s vaccination distribution program is set to begin on or around Dec. 15, according to the Ohio Department of Health. This means that medical professionals and healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 positive patients are expected to receive the initial doses of the vaccine as early as next week. 

According to President Sean Decatur, the College still intends to start the semester on Feb. 1 with sophomores, juniors and seniors in residence, but these plans are subject to change as the pandemic develops. “If January comes, and either because the governor orders that all instruction will be remote or things just look awful, in the broader sense of the state of the pandemic, those are things that we will revisit,” he said.  

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