Concerns arise as students travel into Wooster community

Samuel Boudreau

Senior News Writer

 

On Sept. 10, as students, faculty and staff settled into their routines, President Sarah Bolton sent out the fourth Weekly Campus Health Update. After testing every student entering campus during the move-in period, the College has now adopted monitoring testing, which “tests approximately 250 students per week” and can test more, if needed. In the latest campus update, all 259 tests taken had come back negative.

 

Although the restrictions were supposed to ease up by Sept. 7, the College extended off-campus restrictions to Sept. 10 in response to the rise in cases in Wayne County. However, as the pace of cases has dropped considerably in the past two weeks, the College has allowed “some more flexibility for students going into the local community,” as stated by Bolton in her latest Campus Public Health Update.

While students are now allowed to enter the community, Bolton continued to emphasize  that “the only way to maintain the safety of our community, and for students to live and learn on campus is to stay extremely diligent in preventing the spread of COVID-19.” Furthermore, when the Wayne County COVID indicator went from red to orange, Bolton stated, “the Wayne County Health Commissioner indicated that it was safe to move about the city of Wooster utilizing the same precautions that we have put in place since the beginning of the semester, with respect to our congregate living situation on campus.”

 

While no new positive cases have been reported since Aug. 20,  it is crucial that students continue to follow safety protocols. Bolton points out that colleges and universities across the country continue to shut their doors as the virus tears across campuses, most notably with UNC-Chapel Hill canceling in-person classes one week into the semester. 

 

Furthermore, cases are soaring in major universities in Ohio as well. The Ohio State University has the highest number of reported cases in the state with 1,528, followed by the University of Dayton with 1,141. Smaller schools in the state are also experiencing outbreaks. Wittenberg University, a school with a student body of only 1,910 students, has already reported 39 cases.

 

Wayne County had also seen a spike in cases between Aug. 16 and 30. According to the Wayne County Health Department, 159 cases were reported during the two-week period which led to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System labeling Wayne County as level three red, meaning there is high exposure, spread and risk.

 

The recent high level of cases stem from an outbreak at the Wayne County Care Center, where there has been a cumulative total of 77 cases from, 38 residents and 39 staff members, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The Care Center is home to 46 residents, so roughly 83 percent of residents have tested positive for the virus. The home has faced 9 total deficiencies in the past three years.

 

Moreover, since the start of the pandemic, numerous homes in Wooster have experienced outbreaks. The Smithville Western Care Center has been devastated by the virus as 92 cumulative cases and 30 deaths have been reported among residents and staff. The home has been cited for 17 deficiencies in the past, including one infection-related deficiency in 2017 where the home violated federal standards to protect residents from the spread of infections, and was fined $6,500 on Nov. 29, 2017 for a deficiency where “actual harm occurred.”

 

Along with Smithville Western, other homes that have been hit by the virus in Wayne county include Glendora Health Care Center (31 cumulative cases), Apostolic Christian Home (5 cumulative cases), Doylestown Health Care Center(2 cumulative cases) (ProPublica), Windsor House – Doylestown( 5 cumulative cases), Westview Healthy Living1 cumulative case) and The Avenue (2 cumulative cases).

 

However, as students spent their time outside campus this weekend, some reported concerns about the safety practices among community members outside the campus.

One student, Bijeta Lamichhane ’22, recalled her experience commuting in Wooster transit on Saturday. “I don’t have a car, so I took the transit with my friends to downtown,” Lamichhane said. “When I walked in, I noticed that none of the three people already inside — including the driver — were wearing masks. My friends and I stayed as far as we could from them and sanitized ourselves the moment we left the bus, but I was really concerned.”

 

She continued, “We wanted to take a Lyft back instead, but our ride did not arrive on time so we had to take a shuttle back to campus. When we got in, the driver told us that over 40 students had commuted by the transit that day.” Other students have noted the lack of mask enforcement in places such as Walmart, and the nonchalance of community members walking on campus.

 

Although there is greater control over social distancing measures due to policy enforcements, violations are still taking place. As reported by Samuel Casey ’21, the first weekend of college did not get off to a promising start as resident assistants and Security and Protective Services (SPS) officers made reports of two parties; 15 students were not socially distanced among other infractions.. Between May 1 and Aug. 31, 69 COVID-19 policy violations have been reported on campus.

Acknowledging the campus climate, Dean Myrna Hernández told the Voice, “[Many] students are working really hard to honor the spirit of the COVID agreement and keep things safe on campus. At the same time we are hearing reports of some students blatantly ignoring the guidelines.”

 

In a follow-up to Bolton’s Campus Public Health Update, Hernández added to the update and urged students to continue to maintain social distancing protocol and to wear masks while in the community. In this email, Hernández stated that the visitors of students were not allowed to be inside any campus buildings, with the exception of Lowry for use of the bookstore or post office. While student visitors are not allowed into campus buildings, prospective students and their families have been seen entering multiple campus buildings, such as Babcock Hall and Timken Science Library. Student athlete recruits and their parents have been seen interacting with coaches in the Scot Center as well. When asked if prospective students and their families entering buildings on campus raised concerns about the safety of the campus community, Hernández told the Voice that admissions has received permission from the Health and Safety Task Force to enter some specific buildings. Guests are asked to take their temperatures the morning of their visit.

 

As seen with the alarming totals in nursing homes, the virus can infect the majority of populations, even in a rural area such as Wayne County. “This virus moves quickly and is very easily transmitted, and everyone’s daily actions — especially masking and social distancing — matter tremendously,” Bolton told students.