COVID-19 cases spiked on campus last week, with 192 positive results between Feb. 14 and 21, according to Kenyon’s COVID-19 Dashboard. There are currently 28 active cases on campus, bringing the semester total to 297.
Last week’s surge came shortly after Kenyon’s brief transition to Activity Level 1, the lowest level of precautions. The College returned to Activity Level 2, or “moderate precaution,” last Wednesday, following a rapid jump to 88 active cases.
According to Chair of the COVID-19 Steering Committee Drew Kerkhoff and Senior Director of Wellness Chris Smith, there is insufficient data to assess whether the change in activity level caused the outbreak. However, Kerkhoff and Smith wrote in an email to the Collegian that they will consider this most recent outbreak before changing activity levels again. “We are reflecting on this experience as we consider what living with COVID-19 as an endemic infectious disease means for Kenyon College,” they wrote.
Despite the number of positive cases on Kenyon’s campus, cases in Knox County have fallen, with a 68% decrease in new positive tests over the past 14 days.
Similar to the surge last fall, the recent outbreak has strained the College’s isolation housing capacity, requiring that the majority of sick students complete isolation in their own rooms. Additionally, students in isolation on campus had to enter the servery in Peirce Dining Hall to get their meals to-go, unlike last fall when they were instead directed to pick up to-go meals from Peirce Pub.
Smith and Kerkhoff said that the fewer restrictions during this surge were possible due to the less virulent nature of the omicron variant. “Despite last week’s high case count, no students required acute care, and we had no reports of employee cases,” they said.
According to President Sean Decatur, Kenyon is moving towards an endemic approach to COVID-19, and that the college is moving towards living with the virus. This outlook comes amidst a national shift in the pandemic strategy, with many governors shifting towards an endemic approach. States including New York, New Jersey and California have announced they will lift some restrictions, including mask mandates.
Decatur noted that he does not anticipate any increase in activity restrictions. “I don’t think we’re in a position now where it’s, ‘How do we restrict campus more?’ but I think we’re at the stage of beginning to think about, ‘What does the future look like?’ and ‘How do we balance risk?’ How do we put this risk in a new context, and what does that mean moving forward?” he said.
One way Kenyon will be moving forward is with food trucks. On Feb. 18, Kerkhoff announced in a news bulletin that, to celebrate the community’s resilience throughout the pandemic, there will be food trucks on campus twice a week for the rest of the semester. Kerkhoff and Smith emphasized that the food trucks, in addition to celebrating the community, will create opportunities for students to gather outdoors. “It is becoming increasingly important that we continue to offer safe ways to gather as a community, even in the face of COVID,” they said.
Looking forward, Kenyon will not conduct reentry testing following spring break. According to Kerkhoff and Smith, this is because of the sort of tests Kenyon has at its disposal. “Rapid tests are necessarily self-reported, so doing compulsory testing is not really possible,” they said. They said that Kenyon will encourage students to get tested before they return to campus, and rapid tests will continue to be available throughout the semester.