Rise In COVID-19 Cases Sparks Concern Across Campus

Update 4/14: The Maroon-News has confirmed that five Townhouses have evacuated for close contact quarantine, accounting for at least five of the campus’s positive cases and nearly 75 of the close contacts, excluding quarantine exemptions for individuals who have had the virus within the last 90 days or individuals who are fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks have elapsed since their final dose.

Update 4/13: The campus will move to a modified Gate 1 and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will re-evaluate next Monday, according to an email from Vice President for Communications Laura Jack this afternoon. There are now 134 students and 14 staff in close-contact quarantine, with 47 of 94 rooms full at the Wendt and three of the 15 rooms occupied at 76 Broad. Modified Gate 1 will allow in-person classes to continue to meet in person and libraries to remain open, but will restrict outdoor gatherings to groups of 10 and restrict all cross-residence visitation. Additionally, all dining locations will shift to a grab-and-go format. The University will provide on-demand antigen testing on Wed., April 14 by appointment.

This update comes after signs that read “Everything closing at 3PM, COOP, Frank and The Pub will reopen from 5 PM- 8 PM take-out only” went up at Colgate dining locations like the COOP, Frank, Donovan’s Pub and Chobani Cafe.

Original Story 4/13: Recent surveillance testing data from the University revealed a new spike in COVID-19 cases among on-campus students and staff. A recent update to Colgate’s Health Analytics Dashboard in the afternoon of April 13 shows a total of 18 active students and one employee case as of 11:59 p.m. on April 12, up from the 15 active student cases on campus with 77 students in close contact quarantine as of April 12. Just days earlier, as of April 9, Colgate had only four cases and 23 close contacts. The Dashboard shows Colgate staffing levels and student quarantine/isolation on high alert, with isolation levels trending toward very high alert levels. Student Health services’ ability to manage student health and student positive case numbers show a moderate alert, with the other indicators remaining at low alert or new normal levels, though many are trending towards higher alert levels. 

This rise in cases has led to growing concerns among both administrators and students about the virus’s presence on campus. Two events for the Class of 2021 — dorm reunions and post-grad city dinners — have officially been canceled as a precautionary measure. A modification to University event rules regarding food service was also implemented prior to the current rise in cases. 

Acting Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Communications Laura Jack emphasized the importance of continuing to adhere to growing restrictions on gatherings despite the increasing number of vaccinated people. This includes a rule announced in the Colgate Together Digest on Friday, April 2 barring food service at University events.

 “I think what we’re seeing on campus mirrors what we are seeing around the nation. Warm weather combined with growing frustrations with COVID prevention measures has everyone tired of the pandemic. I get that, but we’re not at the finish line yet,” Jack said. “Limiting food and beverage consumption at events is a safety measure that reduces time that folks will be without masks when eating.”

Associate Vice President for Campus Safety, Emergency Management and Environmental Health and Safety Dan Gough noted that there is currently general concern over transmission rates of COVID-19 among college-age individuals, a primary reason for event cancellations and modifications. 

“The state and CDC data right now shows that the highest transmission is between 18 and 24-year-olds,” Gough said. “The Madison County Department of Health Director Eric Fast said on Monday that that’s the predominant population [that has] the highest number of cases in the U.S.” 

Gough also emphasized that transmission rates are highest among activities involving eating and drinking, which Gough said accounts for Colgate enacting the rule barring food service from Colgate events. 

“[The rule change and senior event cancellations] were really for infection control purposes because any event where attendees take their masks off to drink or eat dramatically increases the risk of transmission,” Gough said. “With the increased cases in the county, state and nationally, it’s just not prudent to support events where there is that increased risk of spread or transmission.” 

Director of Conference Services, Summer Programs and Auxiliary Support Cody Tipton shared many of Gough’s views on the necessity of implementing new rules for events. 

“There were several factors that went into the [making of the new rule], including rising numbers of cases regionally and nationally, as well as outbreaks at other colleges and universities that led to some programs switching to virtual instruction or suspending in-person dining services,” Tipton said. “Since group dining is a higher risk activity, we’re hopeful that transitioning to grab-and-go [for Colgate events] will support our efforts to end the semester strong.” 

With cases on the rise and increased modifications to University events, many students have expressed concern over COVID-19 transmission across campus, specifically in their dormitories. An April 8 email from Dan Gough sent to residents of Drake Hall stated that a rise in positive cases in the building required all residents to get tested as soon as possible the following day. 

Drake Hall residents and sophomores Rachella Carlino and Sasha Greensfelder expressed alarm in response to the new cases in their residence hall. 

“It’s really frightening — especially when Colgate has been doing so well with stopping the spread of COVID-19 — to have all of these new cases come up in your dorm,” Carlino said. “We’re trying to be as safe as we can, but it feels like it’s all around us right now.” 

Greensfelder’s feelings aligned with many of Carlino’s regarding Drake Hall’s rise in cases. 

“I feel like this year, COVID-19 in general has been one of my biggest worries, but Colgate has been doing so well,” Greensfelder said. “Right now, though, it feels like since there are a lot of people who have gotten it or are close contacts in [Drake Hall], everything’s a little less safe.” 

Associate Vice President Jack stressed the importance of approaching gatherings with increased caution during this time.

“A lot of us crave the ability to get together with friends without masks. Until we are able to get the majority of campus community members vaccinated, we need to continue to adhere to the Commitment to Community Health,” Jack said. “We need to finish strong and not let our guards down now.”