Colgate University / Mark DiOrio
Prior to transitioning to Gate 3 in early March, several on-campus gatherings in violation of Colgate’s Commitment to Community Health sparked concern for University officials in recent weeks. Though Colgate remains in Gate 4, the final stage of campus restrictions dubbed “new normal,” in a March Colgate Together Digest email, Vice President of Communications Laura Jack spoke of these events’ potential to cause major COVID-19 transmissions that could have delayed Gate movement on campus.
“Research shows that 80% of infections come from super-spreading events, so the Task Force maintains the importance of avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distance. Large gatherings continue to be investigated, and students found in violation of the Commitment to Community Health will be subject to the consequences we have so frequently outlined,” Jack wrote.
In accordance with Jack’s email, Associate Vice President for Campus Safety, Emergency Management and Environmental Health and Safety Dan Gough emphasized that large gatherings can spread COVID-19 quickly, as seen in various other institutions needing to quarantine its students as transmission rates heightened.
“If there were a positive case at a large gathering where these best practices were not in place, the potential exists for spreading the virus to a large number of people. This exact scenario has caused other colleges and universities to implement campus-wide quarantines or suspend in-person instruction altogether,” Gough said.
President Brian Casey explained that due to the Wendt Inn being the only location to quarantine students, the Health Analytics Team (HAT) and various task forces were concerned about mass gatherings potentially putting the entire campus at risk.
“We have a very narrow safety net. Say there was two of these parties, and there was one positive student in each of those parties, we would’ve very quickly have had to, by state law, quarantine all of those students. And the Wendt could’ve filled up so fast and that’s where you run the risk of, ‘Oh my gosh, do we have to go back to remote [learning]?’ Because once our safety valve fills up, the only safety valve we have is everyone staying in their room,” Casey said.
Casey explained that large indoor gatherings have consistently produced high transmission rates among college campuses across the country.
“What we’ve learned from science and from our peers, because we talk to other campuses all the time, [is that] there’s nothing more dangerous to a campus than large indoor parties. It is, by far, the most dangerous thing. When I look at other colleges, it’s the large indoor parties where you go from zero to [mass rates of] infections. It was anxiety-producing to see that behavior [in the past few weeks],” Casey said.
Student Compliance Manager Stacey Millard expressed that student compliance to the Commitment to Community Health has been satisfactory throughout the semester, though violations continue to occur.
“Overall, this semester we are seeing solid compliance within our community, and like the fall, students’ commitment to keeping themselves and others safe has contributed significantly to our success thus far. That being said, we are still seeing concerning violations, most notably involving large unmasked gatherings indoors and testing noncompliance,” Millard said.
Millard described that one recurring violation is students on campus not wearing face coverings.
“In recent days, we have also received reports that students are not consistently wearing face coverings, which is concerning since we have also had two student positives and a dozen or so close contacts from these individuals,” Millard said.
Millard emphasized that, even though Colgate’s current status in Gate 4 allows for increased accommodations, compliance with these rules continues to be essential for students to follow.
“Gate 4 permits our community to gather in larger numbers, I hope that our community will also continue to practice consistent and proper masking and safe physical distancing and remember that restrictions are still in place. The pandemic is not over, and cases nationally began to rise again this week. The safety measures we put in place when this started are not only expected, but we know by now — nearly 13 months into this pandemic — that they work.”