On Sunday, Sept. 5, Student Council met to discuss the newly altered COVID-19 policies and their effects on campus life. Joined by COVID-19 Steering Committee Chair Drew Kerkhoff, the Council was able to ask clarifying questions about how the Committee has come to some of its pivotal decisions — such as not providing tests to students upon arrival to campus — as well as how it plans to communicate with the student body moving forward.
In a presentation to the Council, Kerkhoff talked about how the COVID-19 Steering Committee develops and implements campus policy. He explained how the Committee works in conjunction with Knox Public Health (KPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), saying that the initial layered strategies to vaccinate and mask indoors came out of guidance from both sources. Still, the overarching question was how the College sustained a large outbreak despite the Committee’s confidence in its original plans. In response, Kerkhoff spoke about the unpredictability of the virus, arguing that COVID-19 mutations constantly present new challenges and uncertainties.
Safety and Wellness Committee Chairperson Skyler Lesser-Roy ’22 voiced the concerns of students who felt that the Committee and the College administration had not been straightforward with information regarding COVID-19 on campus. She stressed the importance of conveying information in a clear and timely manner, and bringing students up to speed on the latest news regarding case management.
“There was a moment of darkness of communication when people were scared,” Lesser-Roy said. “It’s important that if there are issues, the Steering Committee feels like they can communicate that to the students.”
In response, Kerkhoff said that while vaccines and masking are effective, they are not a cure-all, and ultimately failed to fully protect the College from the chaos associated with an outbreak. To complicate the matter, the demand for rapid-response tests has risen exponentially because of the Health Center’s inability to meet requests for PCR tests, thus slowing KPH’s ability to process tests and data.
“It’s very easy to feel like you’re in 2020 again,” Kerkhoff said. “But we have to remember that we’re in a different space and continue to adapt to change.”
Kerkhoff also said that wastewater testing does not provide enough specific data to determine precise measurements of the virus. Kerkhoff described the Steering Committee’s strategies as a cogent management of resources, which includes the campus-wide testing program implemented this week as well as isolation housing. For now, they are focused on students who are symptomatic of the virus.
Additionally, the Council discussed how COVID-19 policies have affected other areas of campus life. Ever Croffoot-Suede, chair of the Housing and Dining Committee, addressed the use of styrofoam carry-out containers and cups in Peirce Dining Hall due to the current indoor-dining restrictions. She assured the Council that AVI is working to get compostable containers, but that they are currently held up because of supply chain issues. In addition, Croffoot-Suede reported that positive students will follow last year’s protocol of picking up their take-out from Pierce Pub and using a different entrance to prevent viral spread.
The next Student Council meeting will be held on Sunday, Sept. 12 at 7:00 p.m.