On Friday, the College announced that the quiet period, which was originally scheduled to end on Monday, will extend another two weeks to Feb. 28. This followed the third round of COVID-19 testing, during which the campus positivity rate nearly doubled from just under 0.5% to 0.9%.
As of Wednesday, there were seven new student positives, bringing the student total to 19. The College reported two of these positive cases over the weekend, and the five other positive tests were reported earlier this week. 46 students are currently in quarantine.
There were two new positive employee cases and nine active Gambier cases. There was also a decrease in the number of cases in Knox County, where there are now 97 active cases.
It is unclear if the new cases at Kenyon are evidence of community spread on campus or if they were brought to Kenyon and went undetected during the first two rounds of testing.
These new numbers come after a large number of COVID-19 tests taken last Wednesday and Thursday were stuck in limbo at the UPS processing center. The tests arrived at the Everlywell labs nearly two days late due to inclement weather. The delay in test results caused concern amongst students about the possibility of undetected community spread.
As of Monday, there were a few hundred outstanding results from the third round of testing that were not scheduled to be processed by Everlywell until later this week. On Wednesday, Everlywell notified several students from last Thursday’s round of testing that their samples had expired. According to Everlywell’s email, samples only remain stable for a “limited amount of time.” Most test results from last Wednesday arrived this Tuesday.
“With each round of testing we have sample issues and I communicate with those students individually to provide guidance,” said Smith in an email to the Collegian regarding the expiration of testing samples.
In response to the earlier shipment delays, Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith sent an email to students on Tuesday explaining that community spread is an omnipresent concern in the midst of a pandemic, but he remains confident that it will stay low. “Kenyon’s multi-layered approach to mitigating transmission will help keep our community safe, even as we navigate this temporary bump in our testing protocols,” he said.
Furthermore, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 noted that transmission of the virus seems to be occurring mainly within small groups of people not wearing masks, and not through a broader community spread throughout the student population.
Smith was concerned about the increase in positive cases, which prompted the members of the COVID-19 Steering Committee to recommend an extension of the quiet period, rather than a transition out of it as planned.
However, even with the increase in cases and extended quiet period, Peirce Dining Hall remains open for indoor dining and the College is still conducting in-person classes. These policies have led to concern amongst students that the restrictions are not tight enough.
In response to these concerns, the College sent out a news bulletin on Friday outlining additional guidelines to mitigate spread, which included restricting students who have been placed in quarantine from entering the severy or dining rooms. Instead, they are supposed to pick up their meals from the Peirce Pub using a designated entrance, although there is no indication of how this will be enforced.
“We wanted to be responsive to student concerns and particularly what seemed to be some rising anxiety about students interacting with one another in the servery,” Bonham said in an interview with the Collegian.
However, some students are still concerned about the potential risk of exposure. On Friday, the leaders of Unity House sent an all-student email announcing that they would be starting a meal-delivery system so quarantined students could receive their meals without having to go to Peirce and risk infecting others.
“While we are organizing the delivery service, it’s not an official Unity program; this is just students organizing to help other students. We hope to be operating as soon as possible, but it all depends on how quickly we hear back from AVI management and the Health Center,” said Unity House Co-managers Micah Smith ‘22 and Rory Drefyus ‘22 in a message to the Collegian.
Both Chris Smith and Bonham remain confident that students will follow quiet period guidelines, which will lower the positivity rate and the amount of transmission. Smith hopes that the extended quiet period will serve as a wake up call for students, prompting them to take the College’s recommendations seriously.
Smith noted that the COVID-19 Steering Committee does not plan to extend the quiet period past Feb. 28 unless there is a continued upward trend in cases, and that there is currently no discussion about sending students home early this semester.
“The idea of students leaving campus — as in, being sent home as they were during the spring 2020 semester — has not emerged,” he said. “We are really hopeful still that we can continue to make our ships sail in the same direction and figure out how to get this thing under control so that we can get safely to May. That’s our goal since we started this spring semester.”
Ongoing updates about case numbers can be found at Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard.