Senior News Writer
In President Sarah Bolton’s sixth weekly health update, one COVID-19 test returned positive out of the 209 total conducted. “We have received one positive test result out of 209 tests completed over the last week (through noon [of Sept. 24]),” the email read. For each positive case, contact tracing from the Wayne County Health Department will identify any individuals who have been within six feet of the COVID-19 positive individual for at least 15 minutes and 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient has been isolated. The 48 hours before illness onset is critical; the University of Harvard Medical School reports that individuals are most likely to spread the virus 48 hours before experiencing symptoms.
Dean of Students Myrna Hernández provided an outline of how the College conducts contact tracing with the Health Department. “On our end, we identify roommates and housemates to be quarantined. Our Director of Emergency Management, Steve Glick, follows up with students who self-report as close contacts,” Hernández informed.
Hernández also explained that quarantined students are often checked up on. “Students in quarantine have a staff person assigned to them to check-in on how they are doing and if things are going okay with academics, meals and how they are doing generally,” she said. “That first contact typically happens 24-48 hours after they go into quarantine.”
Wayne County is at a Level 1 in terms of COVID-19 spread, as there have been 30 new cases between Sept. 21 and 26. However, the Wayne County Health Department has noted a shocking shift in age distribution of the virus as adolescents and children represent 27 percent of COVID-19 cases, the highest in the county. Cumulatively, The College of Wooster has reported eight positive cases and there are currently 7,273 cases in 48 Ohio colleges. Miami University is emerging as a hotspot with 1,392 cases where students were reportedly partying while COVID-19 positive, per The Washington Post. Colleges also continue to move online; Merrimack College, a private Augustinian college in Massachusetts, shut their doors after an outbreak. Globally, coronavirus deaths have passed one million, as cases rise again throughout the United States. On Sept. 28, Ohio reported 993 and five deaths, with Putnam, Athens and Mercer Counties emerging as hotpots, according to The New York Times.
At the College, one major area of concern that has emerged for students is the Lowry dining hall, as hundreds of students eat inside despite having the ability to get take-out.
In her weekly email, Director of Campus Dining and Conference Services Marjorie Shamp told students that putting one’s mask on after eating, avoiding conversations without masks, following physical distancing rules and not moving chairs will help prevent the spread of infection in Lowry.
When asked if conditions in Lowry dining hall are adequate in preventing the spread of COVID-19, even if students follow guidelines, Shamp told the Voice that, “Capacity in the dining hall was reduced and tables set for no more than 10 people, self-serve food stations were eliminated, our dish machine was certified to eliminate COVID-19 from all dishware, flatware and drinkware.” She also mentioned that they use a sanitizing solution on dining tables that kills a variety of viruses, including COVID-19.
“Campus Dining will follow all safety precautions necessary to provide a safe environment for guests and will refer to The College of Wooster’s COVID Task Force for guidance and recommendations on additional measures if they become necessary,” Shamp told the Voice. If more cases are reported on campus, then the “Campus Dining would work with the campus COVID-19 Task Force to determine what steps would be necessary if more cases are reported, including providing all meals to-go, with no seated dining.”
When asked how many cases on campus would justify canceling seated dining, Shamp responded, “I cannot answer that question, as it would be up to the College, since there are so many unknown factors.”
Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College Angela Johnston noted, “We do not have an established threshold for a specific number of cases that would trigger us to either go to quarantining, to-go meals, and/or sole remote instruction.” Johnston continued, “We continue to be in very close contact with the public health commissioner at the Wayne County Public Health Department. We would determine, in consultation with him, if we needed to change any of the current practices.”
Glick also echoed Johnston’s statement. “There really isn’t a ‘magic’ number to move to grab-and-go dining,” Glick said. “We would share our data with the Wayne County Health Department for their input on how to proceed.”
Lowry is currently seating 285 students, down 55 seats from capacity established in August and down 365 seats from normal capacity. Time will tell if this capacity continues to dwindle, based on whether cases rise on campus.