Dear Kenyon community,
The challenging start to the semester taught us the hard lesson that COVID-19 is still with us. While case numbers have come down from their peak, the virus continues to be present on campus, and each of us has a personal responsibility to keep our community safe and healthy. Having reached the sixth week of the semester, October reading days are upon us. As we welcome this respite and look forward to Family Weekend, we wanted to reach out to the community with a brief update on our current conditions so that we can all continue to make well-informed, sensible choices to look out for one another and limit the spread of the virus.
So what do we want everyone to know? Three things.
- First, COVID is again spreading on campus. After several weeks of single digit case counts, 14 new cases have appeared since Friday, October 1. And with a large number of tests being submitted by students in anticipation of fall break, more positive results will likely arise this week. Thankfully, symptoms continue to be generally mild to moderate and no students have required acute medical intervention or hospitalization. We need to keep working to limit the spread of the virus.
- Second, we can continue to isolate positive cases off campus, for now. Students are still encouraged to travel home for isolation if they are able, but most are moving to the Comfort Inn. But while our local off campus isolation housing resources are currently sufficient, they are not infinite, and a continued rise in cases could result in the need for students to isolate in their campus residences. Protecting these resources in order to care for sick students and limit spread remains a priority.
- Finally, Knox County remains an area of high spread. Daily case counts have decreased somewhat since their peak in early to mid-September, but our local healthcare systems are still operating at or beyond their capacities. Rates of hospitalization remain quite high, and the ICU and other critical care resources of Knox Community Hospital and most other central Ohio hospitals are fully utilized, with little to no capacity for additional care. Please continue to limit local travel as much as possible, and be careful out there!
What does this mean for life on campus?
- We are not making any changes to our guidelines at this time, but campus case numbers and our isolation housing capacity are two of the main determinants of our campus activity level. A continued rise in cases and depletion of isolation housing options could lead to modification of our current Level 2 guidelines or, at the extreme, another temporary shift to Level 3, which would be truly regrettable. No one wants this to happen.
So what can we do?
- Stay vigilant and encourage others to do the same. Luckily, we all know what to do about this. Wear masks indoors whenever you are around others, especially in larger groups. Gather outside whenever possible, and limit indoor get togethers to a smaller group of friends. Keep masks up when you are not actually eating and drinking, and as tempting as it is to linger, get up from the table and take that mealtime conversation back outside, or continue it with masks in place. If you see your friends slipping, keep encouraging them to stay committed. We know that masking, distancing, limiting numbers, and moving outside work, and we need to keep asking that of ourselves and one another.
- If you are traveling, travel safely. Whether spending fall break on campus, at home with family, or on a trip with friends, we all remain members of the Kenyon community. And since 93% of U.S. counties are still experiencing high rates of transmission, leaving campus does not mean leaving behind the risk of infection. In fact, your risks may very well increase. The same behaviors that limit spread on campus will reduce the risk of bringing the virus back to campus on Sunday. So be careful! And upon returning, it is a great time to pick up a test and limit contact with others until you get the result.
Looking ahead, there are a couple of other things to consider.
- Get your (required) flu vaccine as soon as possible. The continued prevalence of COVID-19 is coming into contact with seasonal influenza, which further threatens to make a lot of people sick and overload our already strained healthcare system. The pandemic also has impacted the supply chain for influenza vaccine. And despite pre-booking a vaccine order at the earliest opportunity in March, our vaccine allocation may not arrive on campus until late October, which will delay our on-campus vaccine clinics. While we currently have limited doses for students with scheduled appointments at the Cox Center, we encourage all students to take advantage of potentially greater vaccine access during fall break and get the vaccine as soon as possible. Locally, students can consider Knox Public Health and local pharmacies (Kroger, Rite-Aid and CVS), but the vaccine is likely widely available at little or no cost wherever you might be during break. If you receive your flu vaccine off campus, please upload your documentation to the Kenyon College- PyraMED Student Health Portal. Note: Once in the portal, go to “Document Upload” and select “Immunization Record.”
- Finally, keep making responsible decisions with the future in mind. Family Weekend is two weeks away and we are halfway to Thanksgiving break. All of us, students and staff alike, want to welcome families safely to Kenyon to enjoy a beautiful autumn weekend in Gambier. We also want to return from Thanksgiving break for the end of the semester with in-person classes and a healthy campus community. It is up to all of us to preserve these wonderful opportunities. Living with COVID-19 during this phase of the pandemic requires us to recognize both the relative safety of our largely vaccinated community and the fact that we still need to actively limit the spread of the virus through our own individual behaviors. Making responsible, well-informed decisions in light of this complex reality is difficult, but Kenyon students and employees have demonstrated every day that they are up to that challenge. Keep it up!
Best wishes on behalf of the COVID Steering Committee,
Associate Provost and Professor of Biology