Dear Denison Community,
I am writing to share some disappointing information about our recent signal testing as well as next steps based on the results. On Monday, we administered 215 signal tests. We have results back from 205 of them, and so far we have 5 positive cases, all of them within our student population.
This is disconcerting, but altogether not surprising. We knew that we would have COVID on campus, and we expected that there might be an increase in cases when we opened more socializing in residential halls. Consistent with our procedures, we have quickly done comprehensive contact tracing (thank you to the students and staff who helped make this happen so fast). We are almost finished with contact tracing and have identified 39 close contacts of these 5 individuals. All of those identified as close contacts are in quarantine and will be tested for COVID-19.
Having 5 positive cases is not overly disconcerting, especially in light of consistently low prevalence week to week. What is disappointing is that we have learned through our contact tracing efforts that students were socializing in residential halls in larger groups than allowed and/or in ways that went against our COVID community guidelines. This creates three problems: 1) it increases the odds that we will have cases; 2) it increases the number of students who one person might infect; and 3) it greatly increases the number of students who have to be quarantined.
Our COVID team spent time tonight with our team of epidemiologists and research scientists. We agree that 5 cases is not an alarming number, but we need to take the next few days to test those who were in close contact with the 5 positive individuals and take some immediate precautions that will help us mitigate potential spread. For the time being, students should not gather in each other's residential hall rooms. Hopefully this will only be for a short time, but this is an important step right now.
Students may continue to travel to Granville, Newark, and Heath for groceries as well as restaurant take-out or drive-through. But students may only travel in cars with their roommates. I am worried about COVID rates in the surrounding area. Please, please, please, don’t dine indoors or go to bars. And any time you are eating with others, observe physical distancing (inside or out). Students may socialize outside (I realize it is getting colder), but it's important to physically distance and/or wear masks and to keep group sizes down.
A lot of liberal arts colleges are experiencing outbreaks. As this occurs, we are learning about COVID management on campuses like ours. Most often, outbreaks are not being tied to classrooms or dining halls, which are configured for health and safety. They are being tied (again and again) to indoor gatherings (many of which may seem innocent to those involved), and large outdoor parties without social distancing and/or masks. Please, we need students to follow the COVID community guidelines. In particular, students should not be partying or holding social gatherings in residential hall rooms (even small gatherings for the time being).
We have done really well as a community and should be proud of what we have accomplished together. But, this is a reminder for our community.
We have made it this far together, and I have confidence we will successfully make it through the semester. I know it hasn’t been easy, and I know we are asking a lot. But, the results of this week’s signal tests and contact tracing are proof that our safety measures, and our diligence in adhering to them, are critical.
I will email you with updates as we learn more.