This week we conducted 160 signal tests. We have about half of those results back and have no positive results so far. Currently, we have 12 community members in quarantine, only one of which is in an on-campus quarantine space.
Over the last few weeks, a lot of students have reached out to ask if there is a way to allow students to socialize in one anothers’ residential hall rooms as a way to increase social interactions. We have been discussing ideas with students, examining what other liberal arts colleges are doing, and discussing options with the epidemiologists who are helping guide our COVID management at Denison. Based on that work, we have a plan to slowly start to phase this in on a limited basis.
In order to launch this correctly, we will test every student for COVID-19 following a phased approach by class year.
We will be working with Vault Health as they have developed one of the most reliable saliva tests available. This will allow us to test every student on campus. It is a RT-qPCR test that is considered very sensitive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2. The test can detect fewer than 10 copies of viral genes per milliliter of saliva, and can detect the presence of virus in the saliva within 2 days of infection and up to 28 days after infection. We will have supervised administration of the test (students will take the test in the presence of a trained staff member). Tests will be shipped to the Vault lab for processing and we will receive results within 48-72 hours. The Vault test is used and recommended by many large hospital systems. This round of Vault testing will be in addition to our ongoing signal testing using the OSU test and lab.
Even beyond the need to increase social interactions on campus, it’s a good idea to take a full snapshot of our student community’s viral health. All of the data we have been collecting suggests that the prevalence of COVID on campus is low, but this will give us a chance to test that assumption and get a more complete picture for how we are doing. Just a forewarning, we will find more cases of COVID on campus. We should not be surprised when some positive tests come back, but our hope and belief is that number will be manageable and contained.
We have developed this phased approach with the counsel of our public health and epidemiological partners at OSU.
We are going to start with first-year students. This Sunday, we will test every first-year student for COVID-19. Once we receive all of the results we will evaluate them. If we feel comfortable with the outcomes, we will then allow members of that class to have guests in their room based on guidelines including capacity limits (see below). We will continue to limit off-campus travel. We need to make this tradeoff as we do not feel it is prudent to loosen both on-campus and off-campus restrictions at the same time. Please know, our ability to loosen things up on campus is dependent upon students not traveling beyond Granville and continuing to strictly avoid bars and sit-down service at restaurants.
Once we have tested and received results for first-year students, we will move through the other class years as quickly as possible but we need to do so thoughtfully and with an abundance of caution. We will do one class at a time. If the outcomes of the initial round of testing allow it, we will proceed with the next class as quickly as possible. If conditions around the viral health of our community do not favor moving forward with the plan, we will pause to evaluate our next steps. We know that students would like us to move fast. We want to as well, but we will balance speed with health, safety, and effective execution.
Here are the starting guidelines for in-room guests:
- Students may have two guests per room/apartment as long as physical distancing can be maintained.
- For now, guests must be from your same residential hall.
- Roommates must have a conversation in advance discussing their personal comfort level and plan to allow other students in their room.
- Must ensure 6 feet of physical distance and masks must be worn at all times.
- No parties.
- No overnight guests.
- No food or drinking in rooms as it would require masks to be removed.
- We ask that students keep windows and doors open for best ventilation.
- Students must be honest if asked to share visitor names.
- Residence hall lounges/common spaces also remain available for use according to posted COVID room-capacity limits (which, in all cases is a max capacity of 10).
I need to be very clear about a few things.
First, the only way we can make this work is with full student commitment to show up for testing and adhere to the in-room guest guidelines -- all of the time, for the remainder of the semester. Allowing for in-room socializing is not without risk, so guidelines will be strictly enforced and students found breaking them will lose on-campus privileges and will have to finish the semester remotely.
Second, it’s not fair to ask CAs to carry the burden of enforcing these guidelines. They are your peers and their job is to create community on campus. We need all students to step up and do the right thing. We would also ask all students to proactively ask your peers to do the same. We are all in this together and we all need to do our part. Here is information that can help you in having those conversations with your peers.
Finally, I want to remind you that flexibility and adaptability have been hallmarks of our Fall 2020 planning from the beginning - we have and will continue to modify our plans as we adapt to the changing COVID landscape, to the specific needs and challenges faced by our campus community, and as new information and resources become available. If things go well, we may have options to further expand opportunities for safe socializing in residential halls. If it does not go well, we will tighten things up again.
You can find more information on our Reopen website and answers to some questions you may have. If you have additional questions that aren’t answered, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. First year students will receive an email from Student Development tomorrow with testing details. We are also re-looking at the dashboard to determine how we will report the new tests and their outcomes. I will keep the campus community updated on that and other details of this initiative.
One last reminder: as part of the Community Care Agreement, all residential students are required to get a flu vaccination this year unless they have a valid medical reason not to or a religious restriction. We are offering vaccines on campus Sept. 23 and 25. So far, only 600 students have signed up. Please take a minute right now to schedule an appointment.