On Feb. 17, Fred Linger, manager of Kenyon College business services, sent an email announcing the reopening of Chilitos Fresh Mex and Margaritas, which had been closed since the beginning of the semester. Linger also announced that the restaurant would have new hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m.-8 p.m. on weekends.
According to Linger, the date for reopening and the new hours were ultimately determined by the business.
“All Village businesses were notified via email that students were returning beginning Jan. 25 and they could begin to open for business then or as soon as possible,” Linger said. “The individual business operators were solely responsible for opening and hours, as always.”
In the days following the announcement, students flocked to Chilitos, with many choosing to dine indoors. The gatherings, which took place this weekend, sparked concerns among the Kenyon community because they occurred during the quiet period, which did not end until Monday. In addition, students were concerned about people removing masks and not social distancing. Students posted pictures of Chilitos to social media, expressing concern about the number of people gathered inside.
The concerns over Chilitos’ opening arrive at a time of heightened concern over in-person dining on campus. Many students have expressed skepticism about the safety measures taken by Peirce Dining Hall and the Village Inn. Both opened for indoor dining, with Peirce notably altering its policy on serving quarantined students after an outcry from concerned people on campus.
Much of the controversy surrounded the discrepancy between COVID-19 regulations set by the state and those set by the College. When asked about the gatherings, President Sean Decatur addressed these concerns.
“Businesses are required to follow whatever the state rules are at any given moment,” Decatur said. “The College has chosen some restrictions that are stricter than the state rules, but we really don’t have the authority to assert the College’s rules onto private businesses.”
Because of this gray area, there has been little pressure on the part of the school to enforce COVID-19 restrictions in these gathering spaces. Without a set of guidelines for students to follow when dining indoors, the onus is on them to behave safely.
In addition, while Knox Public Health will issue recommendations, the College will listen to student concerns when they are raised. Linger stressed that students should only go to restaurants if they feel safe doing so.
Administrators have noted that, despite the fact that there is no official jurisdiction on the part of the school as to whether in-person dining is allowed, students should remain cautious and avoid unsafe behavior. Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith said that he found the news about the gatherings concerning.
“Once again, here in Knox County we are still on a public level red, which means there is very high exposure and spread.” Smith said. “If there are gatherings that could exacerbate the spread, it is important that we have a conversation as a college with Chilitos to figure out what guidance we can give them.”