On Wednesday, Sept. 15, a news bulletin sent to the Kenyon community announced plans to lift certain restrictions imposed last week after a spike in COVID-19 cases. In addition, all students will now have the option to be tested each week, regardless of vaccination status. However, unvaccinated individuals are still required to be tested weekly.
The bulletin detailed the results of the COVID-19 tests from mandatory baseline testing last week, stating that, of the 1,696 students who were tested, 65 tested positive — a positivity rate of 3.8%. A majority of the positive tests came from fully vaccinated students who were exhibiting symptoms. According to the bulletin, vaccinated students have generally not shown a high rate of severe symptoms. The bulletin also maintained that there have been no known cases of transmission within the classroom, though it is unclear how this was determined.
Currently, vaccination is required for students, but not faculty and staff. However, the College is considering expanding the vaccine mandate, given the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the COVID-19 vaccine and the proposed federal mandate that employers with more than 100 employees must require vaccination.
Demands for systematic testing arose after a spike in positive cases in early September. Many Kenyon community members viewed the outbreak as a result of a deficient COVID-19 response plan, specifically the College’s failure to test students when they arrived on campus. In response to the criticism, Kenyon implemented mandatory testing of the student body and offered testing clinics as part of its change in protocol.
The low positivity rate, along with the other data collected by the College, has led it to lift some of the current restrictions. This primarily affects class attendance, dining and social events. Classes that went remote after restrictions were put in place must return to in-person instruction by Sept. 22. Organized events now allow up to 50 attendees outdoors, informal gatherings can be up to 10 attendees and each student can have one guest in their rooms, with a maximum of 10 people total in their residence space. In addition, Peirce Dining Hall has officially reopened for in-person dining as of Thursday morning.
The campus will remain open to visitors and Family Weekend is still expected to take place in October, though with some restrictions. The academic calendar remains unchanged and students will be allowed to travel off campus for fall and Thanksgiving break, though the website states the College is “actively considering” entry testing upon students returning after Thanksgiving.
The other updates primarily dealt with continued testing policies and the procedure for students who test positive. Optional weekly testing will be offered to vaccinated students, and the Cox Health and Counseling Center will continue to monitor and test symptomatic students. In the case of a positive test, a student will be moved to isolation housing; if the number of cases exceeds available isolation housing, students will be expected to self-isolate in their rooms.
President Sean Decatur said that providing access to tests on campus is important to avoid students leaving campus to get tested. This allows the College the most accurate picture of testing data, as they are not relying on students to self-report their external test results.
Decatur also emphasized that due to the vaccination status of Kenyon’s campus, the nature of the campus outbreak was quite surprising. “This isn’t the way we expected to begin the semester,” he said. He went on to add that the current guidelines are designed to give students the ability to make their own informed choices.
“We [want to] strike a balance where we’re not locking down the campus in any way — we’re having a sense of a return of full activities and engagement on campus, but doing it in a way where folks are also feeling like they have their own individual resources to navigate safely based on their particular situation and desires,” he said.