On Nov. 5, Chair of the COVID-19 Steering Committee Drew Kerkhoff sent a news bulletin announcing that the College would be easing COVID-19 restrictions, with plans to enter Campus Activity Level 1 on Nov. 8. Kerkhoff’s bulletin also announced that the College is holding a booster clinic through Knox Public Health at the Lowry Center on Nov. 17, and introduced revised COVID-19 policies for the remainder of the semester, including mandatory reentry testing and an increase in COVID-19 restrictions after Thanksgiving break.
According to Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith, the College decided to ease restrictions in the time leading up to Thanksgiving due to the decrease in COVID-19 cases on campus over the last few weeks.
“While we cannot operate with pre-pandemic liberties, Level 1 will allow for more activities pending things remain safe,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.
President Sean Decatur reiterated Smith’s comment, explaining that the College made the decision to loosen restrictions in reflection of the current conditions on campus and throughout Knox County, which has also seen a dip in cases over the last few weeks.
Under Campus Activity Level 1, masks are still required indoors regardless of vaccination status. Classes will remain in person and the limit on the number of people who may attend both indoor and outdoor informal gatherings has been lifted. In light of the lifted restrictions, the Archon Society will hold the College’s first all-campus event since the beginning of the pandemic this weekend.
As of Wednesday evening, Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard reports only one active case among students and two among employees. This brings the academic year’s total number of student cases to 211 and employee cases to 28. The low numbers mark a drastic change from the beginning of the semester, when Kenyon experienced two large outbreaks of the virus in September and October, leading to widespread student frustration and subsequent changes to the College’s testing procedures and COVID-19 policies.
Kerkoff’s Friday bulletin also announced that the College will be holding a COVID-19 vaccine booster clinic on Nov. 17 at the Lowry Center in partnership with Knox Public Health. While it is unclear which vaccines will be offered, Smith said that 795 students and 180 employees have already registered for the clinic.
Additionally, Kerkhoff’s bulletin announced mandatory reentry testing for students returning from Thanksgiving break that will take place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1. The campus will also temporarily enter Activity Level 3 from Nov. 26 until Dec. 3.
Kerkhoff explained that the decision to hold mandatory reentry testing in conjunction with an increase in restrictions was to ensure a smooth close of the semester. Under Campus Activity Level 3, students will still attend classes in person, but there will be capacity restrictions on indoor gatherings, and Peirce will not be open for in-person dining. Athletic practices and events will remain in-person, but other meetings and events will be held remotely.
Smith explained that the decision to test students upon reentry and to increase restrictions was intended to mitigate the type of outbreaks seen earlier this year.
“We do not wish to repeat the campus stress of early September during the weeks leading up to finals and student departure for Winter Break,” he said.
However, the Dec. 3 date for lifting restrictions remains tentative. Kerkoff’s bulletin explains that the COVID-19 Steering Committee will reevaluate whether or not to roll back the precautions based on the data provided by the results of mandatory reentry testing.
“Exiting Level 3 depends both on student participation in testing and on the results remaining within our capacities for isolation housing and case management,” he said.
Decatur expressed similar sentiments, but remained optimistic that the restrictions would only be temporary. “The main idea is to try to restrict large, more informal gatherings until we’re more certain about what the return has been for folks as they come back to campus and have data,” he said. “Assuming all goes well, returning back to, ideally, Level 1 by the weekend after Thanksgiving.”