University Sees Increased Unregistered and Registered Guest Presence on Campus

Despite the Colgate Together Travel Policy discouraging nonessential travel, many students have witnessed a number of parents and guests visiting campus both against and within the campus rules, even seeing an increase in visitor requests in recent weeks.

In his Oct. 12 daily update video, President Brian Casey announced the University’s progression to Gate 3 of Reopening the following day. He also communicated that the gathering size permitted in Gate 3 would be 25 people instead of the originally planned 50. This modification was made for two reasons, one of which was the evidence of guests on campus.

“First, the state of New York is now seeing rising positive cases, and this is not just in New York City, but in several counties near or adjoining Madison County, our county. With infection rates nearing or moving above one percent in these counties, numbers can move very quickly and we have to watch this carefully,” Casey said in the video. “Second, we saw a lot of guests come to campus and the village this weekend. This has led the Health Analytics Team to want to see how we do through the next few rounds of testing, a couple of weeks to see if these visits produce positive [COVID-19] test results.”

The travel policy crafted for the Fall 2020 semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic discourages visitors from coming to the Hamilton area and campus. 

“Any time someone visits campus, it does present an infection control risk. It may not be a large one, but you have to remember that that parent or guest is not going through our robust testing regimen, including the weekly surveillance [testing]. They have not taken our health education, they’re not doing our employee daily health screening, they’re not following our travel policies,” Associate Vice President for Campus Safety Dan Gough said. 

Guests with an essential reason for visiting campus — such as parents delivering essential items — must obtain approval prior to their visit through the Parent/Family Visitor Registration Form.

“[The registration form] gives us an opportunity to provide guidelines for any parent or guest visitor. In an ideal infection control scenario, we wouldn’t have any, but understanding that there are occasions where it is appropriate or even necessary for a parent or a guest to visit, we wanted to make allowances for that,” Gough said.

The form asks that guests account for three to five business days after completing the form for their request to be reviewed and approved. If guests receive approval to visit campus, they must adhere to the policies of the Student Commitment to Community Health and are not permitted in any University-owned residence buildings.

Gough also emphasized that the same travel policy, registration process and visiting rules apply to guests of students in off-campus housing as all students signed the Student Commitment to Community Health.

Sophomore Dana Van Buren’s parents visited her on campus after registering and receiving approval to do so. She said the purpose of their visit was to deliver personal items she had not brought with her for the semester.

“I definitely understand where they’re coming from and wanting to keep us all safe and healthy, so I think it’s fair to want us all to remain local while we’re here because we don’t want to set ourselves back after having to do the two-week quarantine,” Van Buren said of the travel policy. “It’s a tough line to draw as well because just because visitors aren’t allowed in the dorms doesn’t mean that there isn’t contamination at all. If you go out to eat, you’re obviously going to be spreading stuff no matter how careful you’re being.”

Van Buren affirmed that her parents did not enter any University-owned residences and were only on campus to pick her up and drop her off. She mentioned that she and her parents also wore masks in the car.

According to Gough, the Health Analytics Team witnessed an increase in visit requests through the registration form in recent weeks.

“We have seen an increase, which prompted us to send out a reminder to students and to parents that we are discouraging [visitors to campus], and we haven’t had enough time between that reminder to see if that was effective,” Gough said.

In addition to an increase in registered visit requests, Health Analytics Manager Severin Flanigen said the Health Analytics Team also became aware of the presence of unregistered guests on campus from emails received through a tip line.

“We have heard evidence of unregistered guests on campus and again, we want to stress the importance of that outside influence and people potentially bringing the virus to campus, maybe most likely unknowingly, but it does raise the concern that people outside would bring that in,” Flanigen said. “We want to control as much of that as we can. That’s why we have a travel policy and all of those requests do get reviewed by the Dean of the College Staff.”

Flanigen also reiterated that the modifications to Gate 3 were in part to allow the Health Analytics Team time to monitor the surveillance testing results of the weeks following guests’ visits to campus.

“We want to see no positive students coming out of our surveillance or our targeted sampling. [The week of Oct. 12], out of 299 tests that were performed, we had one positive. That one positive had five close contacts who are all now in quarantine either at the Wendt or home,” Flanigen said. “We monitor everything daily, even on the weekends. We’re looking at the metrics and the trends so what we’re really after is making sure that our surveillance testing [and] our wastewater testing are showing no indications of contamination on campus.”

The following week of Oct. 19, no new positive cases were reported from the surveillance testing cycle, according to the Health Analytics Dashboard and Casey’s Oct. 23 Daily Update video.