The Gambier community needs answers about positive COVID-19 cases among the student body. Given that Kenyon has reported 33 student positive tests in the last 3 days and levels of the virus in our wastewater are the highest they have ever been, the College must resume testing all students in residence for the foreseeable future.
Because students are required to be vaccinated, Kenyon elected not to test its students upon arrival to campus, and thus failed to establish a baseline of COVID-19 infections. Many of our peer colleges, including The College of Wooster and Macalester College, required all students to participate in return-to-campus testing, regardless of vaccination status. Since the time they arrived on campus, asymptomatic Kenyon students may be unknowingly transmitting the virus, increasing the risks of illness and possible need for future campus restrictions.
In addition to the absence of campus-wide testing, the College switched from last year’s daily COVID-19 dashboard to a small chart updated once weekly. This makes gauging what Kenyon’s COVID-19 landscape looks like incredibly difficult. The fact that 33 positive tests appeared in the last three days without regular testing being conducted is alarming, and it likely means there are numerous unreported positives.
The delta variant — which is over two times more contagious than previous COVID-19 variants — is currently surging through Knox County. With only 37% of the County vaccinated, almost 300 active cases and 124 deaths, the variant is proving to be a bigger threat to the area than its predecessors.
Vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections can still carry as high of a viral load as unvaccinated people and spread the delta variant, according to the CDC, though often for less time than unvaccinated individuals. The premise, however, remains the same: All breakthrough cases pose a risk to the community, especially considering the low vaccination rate in Knox County.
Due to the emergence of new variants, Kenyon needs to be held responsible for protecting its community — especially those who are not or cannot be vaccinated. By not testing the entire student population, Kenyon is putting the 25% of unvaccinated employees, 4% of students and hundreds of children under the age of 12 at risk. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that unvaccinated individuals were nearly five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than vaccinated people, and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized.
Infectious asymptomatic students may have been eating maskless in Peirce or working out in the Lowry Center every day. Staff members and professors with young children may bring COVID-19 home to their families. Concerned about the state of the pandemic in the Village, 50 of these faculty members are advocating for school-wide testing, and are being ignored by college administrators. We as a community have a responsibility to keep each other safe, and without the proper testing data, we are unable to make informed decisions about how we spend our time with others.
To be clear, we would prefer to avoid the annoyances of the weekly testing process — trudging down to the Lowry Center in the heat of early September does not sound particularly appealing. We acknowledge the inconvenient burden that weekly testing places on students and the College budget: Testing is expensive, and Kenyon students are busy. But for the safety of our community, this is the right thing to do.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Jordy Fee-Platt ’22 and Linnea Mumma ’22, managing editor Amanda Pyne ’22 and executive director Joe Wint ’22. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.