As of Thursday, Kenyon has reported 12 active COVID-19 cases: seven students and five employees. Additionally, 21 students are currently in quarantine after coming in close contact with those positive cases, and wastewater data shows elevated levels of the virus on campus and unchanged in the Village.
This is a significant increase in cases compared to the start of the previous semester. However, Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith said that the College was expecting an increase given the current state of the pandemic, with over 120,000 Americans contracting the virus daily and new, more transmissive strains of COVID-19 showing up around the country. Still, he noted that the positivity rate was low in comparison to that of peer institutions, with only seven positive cases among the 1,260 students in residence.
The current quiet period will last until Feb. 15, which is one week longer than that of the fall semester. However, Peirce Dining Hall will reopen for in-person dining on Feb. 8, before the period’s conclusion. Once students have received two negative test results, they will be allowed to sit inside Peirce to eat, surrounded by plexiglass. Additionally, the Lowry Center reopened on Feb. 1 with limited hours for students.
According to Smith, the decision to open these buildings was made, in part, through conversations with the Student Council. Given wintery conditions, outside congregation is not as feasible as it was in the fall semester, so both Smith and President Sean Decatur said that opening these facilities provided a way for students to interact with one another.
“Once folks have had two negative tests and we’ve reconstructed the bubble around campus, having the option to be able to eat in Peirce is important,” Decatur said.
Still, Smith said that the College would be “tightening up” protocols. Associate Director of Young Alumni Engagement Tristan Neviska ’13 has been temporarily selected to serve as the COVID Support Coordinator, a position dedicated to tracking whether or not students are showing up to receive their COVID-19 tests.
Over the course of the next two weeks, students will be tested twice more for COVID-19 in order to establish a baseline of community spread. Should students miss one of their tests, Neviska will contact them to ensure that they make another appointment. Students who fail to receive a COVID-19 test after several warnings could face interim suspension and be removed from campus pending a student conduct outcome.
“We want to make it to May, and the only way we can do that — at least on the testing front — is to be more stringent in our approach,” Smith said.
Two students in quarantine, however, find that the protocols for close contacts remain ambiguous. One student said that they were advised to contact Campus Safety about their close contact status, but when they did so, Campus Safety provided little information.
“[The officer] said, ‘Stay there, don’t go anywhere, don’t interact with anybody. We will call you back,’” the student said. “It’s been almost a week and I haven’t heard back from them.”
Another student reported that their friend, another close contact, showed up to their designated testing slot and was turned away for breaking quarantine procedures. Smith then told those in quarantine that they would not be tested until their 10th day of quarantine, as per Knox Public Health guidelines.
As with last semester, students in quarantine are still permitted to go to Peirce to pick up their meals.
Despite the complications that may arise throughout the semester, Smith stressed the importance of staying together as a campus community.
“We will not make it to May as a campus unless we are truly working together,” he said. “We’ve got to extend grace toward one another, and we’ve got to also extend giving corrections at times. It’s what Kenyon is supposed to be about.”
Ongoing updates about COVID-19 at Kenyon can be found on the College’s COVID-19 Dashboard.