Section: News

College plans for mandatory re-entry testing, booster clinics

As of Oct. 20, Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard reports 15 active cases among students and two among employees. This brings the total number of cases for the year to 202 for students and 25 for employees, more than double the number of cases recorded during the 2020-21 academic year. Planning for the future, the COVID-19 Steering Committee has announced mandatory comprehensive student testing after Thanksgiving break, as well as initial plans for vaccine booster clinics.

Despite such a high number of cases, student vaccination levels are at their highest yet, with 98.5% of students fully vaccinated and 0.4% in progress toward full vaccination. The employee vaccination rate remains lower, with only 83% fully vaccinated.

The campus remains at a level of moderate precaution, indicating a “somewhat higher risk of infection on campus,” which requires health precautions like wearing masks indoors, optional testing and keeping indoor gatherings to 85% of total capacity.

The wastewater data reflects the high number of cases. As of Monday, Oct. 18, the viral level was 187,000 per liter — almost double the amount recorded on Oct. 14. Gambier is not alone in this problem: According to Knox Public Health (KPH), there are 236 active COVID-19 cases in Knox County, with 24 currently hospitalized.

With Family Weekend around the corner, the College issued new guidelines consistent with Activity Level 2. Kenyon has encouraged all guests to be vaccinated, and all visitors must wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. The College has also asked event organizers to host events outside if possible and to stay within the 85% capacity limit for indoor events. A few areas will also be off-limits to guests, including Peirce Dining Hall, the Patterson Fitness Center, the James Steen Aquatic Center and student residence halls.

To help mitigate spread and to keep the Gambier community safe, Kerkhoff announced that the College is working with Knox Public Health to organize a COVID-19 vaccination booster clinic on campus in the near future. He says that the exact details depend on evolving guidance on boosters from public health authorities. He also said that the College is planning to conduct a round of comprehensive student testing after everyone returns from Thanksgiving break, with exemptions for students who had contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

“The last few weeks of class are very important, and they can of course be very stressful as well, so we want to minimize the potential that COVID will disrupt the end of the semester,” Kerkhoff wrote.

According to President Sean Decatur, the College has considered offering those booster clinics before students leave campus for the semester, or even prior to Thanksgiving break. He said that planning for booster shot clinics has been  complicated: The school has to sort through students’ vaccine information to get a more comprehensive understanding of when the clinic could be most useful for a majority of Kenyon students. 

“Not everyone has the same vaccine, and not everyone was vaccinated at exactly the same time, so figuring out what’s the right way to run a booster clinic to capture the most folks is something else that we’ll need to do,” Decatur said.

These upcoming COVID-19 responses, however, coincide with concerns about Kenyon’s own guidelines.

Some faculty members have raised concerns about Kenyon’s working definition of “close contact,” saying that it contradicts that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In response to these concerns, Kerkhoff said that the College always complies with CDC and KPH guidelines when locating close contacts.

“The particular definitions for close contacts are set by local public health authorities, in consultation with the Ohio Department of Health, and it takes the CDC guidance into account,” Kerkhoff said. “Knox Public Health’s definition has been consistent over the entire course of the pandemic and is based on the proven effectiveness of masks in reducing risk, especially when worn by both the infected person and the potential contact.”

Under this definition of a close contact, transmission of COVID-19 is not considered possible in an indoor classroom setting, where professors and students are constantly masked. As a result, Kenyon professors are not contacted by the College about positive cases among their students and are excluded from contact tracing.

The CDC defines a close contact to be any person within six feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes, regardless of whether they were masked. KPH also defines a close contact to be any person — masked or unmasked — who was within six feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes. However, on their case interview form for people who test positive, KPH defines a close contact as any person who was within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes, without a mask, which Kenyon has adopted as its own policy.

For the latest information about COVID-19 policies, the Gambier community can consult guidelines posted by the CDC or KPH.

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