The College of Wooster Continues to Navigate the Pandemic with Updated COVID-19 Policies

Sam Boudreau

News Editor

 

Testing 

Outside of testing students upon arrival, the College is only testing unvaccinated students on a regular basis this year. “We are not regularly testing vaccinated individuals,” President Sarah Bolton said. “The circumstances under which we would test vaccinated individuals are if someone has any symptoms, concerns or if someone was exposed to someone who tested positive.” The College’s COVID-19 testing policies for vaccinated students are unclear to some students on campus. “I don’t know what is happening with testing,” Fungai Jani ’24 said, who was only tested once upon arrival. Ezana Kiros ’22 agrees and suggests that the College should test vaccinated individuals weekly. “Just once a week and it makes you feel more comfortable,” Kiros said. 

The College plans to also implement testing for student activities that require a “specific interaction.”  “We are likely to do testing in particular situations where student activities require a particular interaction, such as theatre,” Bolton said, “our sampling may be driven by activity-to-activity.”

COVID-19 in Wayne County

COVID-19 transmission remains high in Wayne County, as the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) reported 469 new cases from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. “We are on a seven-week trend of increasing cases week-to-week,” said Wayne County Health Commissioner Nicholas Cascarelli. “Our positivity rate is 13 percent.”

While cases are high in Wayne County, unvaccinated individuals make up the majority of the cases. “Generally, we’re seeing anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of new cases that are vaccinated [individuals],” Cascarelli said. WCHD recommends that students traveling into Wayne County wear masks and socially distance indoors, regardless of vaccination status. “We’re just asking folks to continue to be vigilant,” Cascarelli said. “We are in high transmission.”

Bolton and the COVID-19 task force will meet on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to add guidance on traveling off campus and into Wooster and Wayne County. “I’m certain we will suggest that students and everyone, when they’re out in the larger community in indoor spaces, should be masked,” Bolton said. 

Masking 

The College requires vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to mask indoors. Students have differing opinions on masking indoors, as some students say that vaccinated individuals should not have to mask indoors. “If we’re vaccinated, then I don’t see the point of wearing [masks] indoors,” said Simon Tesfaye ’24, “I’m vaccinated and I feel safe.”

However, Ethan Sayer ’22 believes we should continue to mask indoors. “I think it is good that we’re masking,” they said.

What if you test positive for COVID-19?

If a vaccinated or unvaccinated individual tests positive for COVID-19, they will stay in an off-campus location provided by the College for 10 days. However, vaccinated individuals who are close contacts do not need to quarantine, while unvaccinated individuals selected as a close contact need to quarantine in one of the College’s off-campus locations. “For isolation and quarantine, we have arrangements with various off-campus hotels for students,” Bolton said. Students can also choose to isolate themselves at home if they live within driving distance.

To keep up with academics in isolation and quarantine, the College expects faculty members to work individually with students. “In order to fully support their in-person classes, faculty will largely be using the many approaches to support students who have to miss class that they used before the pandemic,” Bolton said, “although in a few cases, new technologies may be a part of that mix.”

What if the College experiences a COVID-19 outbreak? 

As the school year starts, liberal arts schools with high vaccination rates are already experiencing major outbreaks. Kenyon College reported 46 cases among students since the start of the semester. The College of Wooster has a plan in place in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. The College has a three-pronged plan, (a) supporting students who may be isolated or quarantined, (b) reducing opportunities for transmission by reducing campus contacts and (c) increased testing — either broadly or in focused areas. To support students in isolation and quarantine in a COVID-19 outbreak, the College would expand isolation capacity and support students through the Dean of Students, Wellness Center and faculty members. To reduce campus transmission in case of an outbreak, Bolton said the College would take steps to move dining to take out, reduce the size of gatherings that are permitted on campus, and potentially limit travel off-campus or out of the area. 

Large Social Gatherings 

With 95 percent of students vaccinated, the college currently has no limitations on campus gatherings. Outdoor events, such as Scot Spirit Day, saw hundreds of students convene in close proximity. “In a largely vaccinated community, outdoor activities are relatively safe,” Bolton said, in line with CDC guidance, “some schools that have had larger problems are starting to require outdoor masking again.”

Sayer brought a mask to Scot Spirit Day to stay protected from COVID-19. “Not requiring masks outside is a tricky situation.” Sayer said, “When you get these big groups together, there is a question of where you draw the line.” 

Large Extracurricular Activities: Music and Theatre

Sayer also expressed their concerns about masking guidance in extracurricular activities on campus, as they play in music ensembles on campus. “I do not exactly know what masking policies are for music ensembles,” they said. “There were people with and without masks on.”  For music and theatre ensembles in unique settings, the College relies on faculty proposals for masking. “We ask the faculty in those areas to bring the guidance they have from their national organizations and their proposals for how that would work at Wooster to our COVID-19 task force for our consideration,” Bolton said, “and then we bring that to our medical advisors, if we have any questions before we finalize [their proposals].”

Sports 

For NCAA sporting events, the College of Wooster requires their collegiate teams to be 85 percent vaccinated, which all Wooster sports teams clear. In the NCAC, the College met with colleges in the conference to discuss COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. “Within the NCAC, we’ve been working throughout the summer to talk about what our shared expectations and understandings are about vaccination and testing,” Bolton said. Within the NCAC, only one school has not met the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Unvaccinated athletes and athletic staff in the conference are required to test weekly. 

Campus Dining 

With a limited number of dining options this semester, the College reestablished the Lowry dining hall’s maximum capacity. “The CDC guidance has been pretty clear that with a fully-vaccinated campus, you do not need to impose social distancing everywhere,” Bolton said, “so that is why we returned to having the seats all around the tables at Lowry.” The College opened Kittredge to help provide students with a smaller dining option if they are not comfortable in Lowry. “We understand that people have different comfort levels, so Kittredge provides that opportunity for a smaller space.” 

Vaccine Booster Shots

The College is also in the process of preparing to provide COVID-19 vaccine booster shots on campus this fall. “If we come to a situation where there are booster shots available, we will certainly make sure that those are available on campus,” Bolton said. WCHD currently offers third doses for immunocompromised individuals in the community. The health department recommends checking with your physician before receiving a booster shot. The health department has COVID-19 vaccine walk-in clinics each Thursday in September from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 203 S Walnut St., Wooster, OH, 44691. The health department is also holding COVID-19 clinics throughout Wayne County. You can check the county health department’s website at https://www.wayne-health.org/coronavirus to find vaccine administration times, locations and available vaccine providers. 

After COVID-19

While COVID-19 continues to impact daily life, the College plans to offer additional summer courses in the future. The College offered two summer courses for first-year students in 2020 and established a “summer session” in 2021, which included 10 virtual courses. “Summer online courses were one thing that we invented in the pandemic that we really appreciated,” Bolton noted. Bolton also hopes students will use COVID-19 prevention strategies to help combat influenza, especially masking and not going to class if you’re sick. “When you are sick, you should not just plow through and go to class,” Bolton said. “Don’t just show up in class feeling terrible.”