MICHAEL BALL, Web Editor—Efforts to manage the spread of COVID-19 on campus last semester largely paid off. Cases totaled fewer than 20 positive cases in a residential community of nearly 2,000 students. However, virus positivity rates currently remain elevated locally, and cold weather is pushing students to socialize in riskier indoor environments. With the added spread of new coronavirus strains proving to be more easily transmissible, Denison will likely have a more difficult time managing COVID-19 this semester.
Increased testing for students and staff remains the primary tool in virus containment efforts. Students underwent mandatory pre-arrival and move-in testing. In addition to weekly signal testing of a percentage of the campus community, students should expect at least two additional mass testing events throughout the semester.
Faculty and staff underwent mandatory testing on Feb. 2 and 3, and will be included alongside students in weekly signal testing. Of 2,892 total campus-wide tests administered as of Feb. 15, 38 have been returned as positive. All 241 signal tests administered the week of Feb. 15 were returned as negative.
Student athletes will continue to undergo frequent testing. Nan Carney-DeBord, Denison’s Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics, wrote that athletes participating in intercollegiate competitions “are undergoing increased testing according to protocols that depend on the nature of the sport.” For example, sports with higher levels of physical contact between athletes undergo testing three times per week. Athletes who are not in competition but continue to practice and train will participate in further signal testing in addition to weekly campus-wide signal testing. Depending on the sport, up to 50% of a given team could be tested each week.
Certain sports will participate in intercollegiate competitions, with some events held at neighboring colleges. Carney-Debord noted that athletes will only compete against schools adhering to the same COVID-19 guidelines as Denison, and athletes will not partake in overnight trips. She said that Denison is working to “find a balance between managing COVID-19 on campus and providing opportunities for students to have a good college experience, with appropriate guidelines in place.” One of the larger in-person sporting events being held at Denison this semester is the NCAC men’s tennis championship, scheduled in late April.
Denison’s mandatory quarantine period for close contacts of a confirmed positive COVID-19 case has been shortened from 14 days to 10 days for some instances, following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. If a community member is quarantined as a close contact of a confirmed positive COVID-19 case, remains asymptomatic and tests negative on or after the fifth day of quarantine, the quarantine period may be shortened to 10 days, contingent on certain factors. However, those who test positive must isolate for the full 14-day period.
Denison continues to collaborate closely with the State of Ohio, epidemiologists at The Ohio State University and the Licking County Health Department in Coronavirus containment efforts. Denison reported receiving approval to become an official COVID-19 vaccine distribution site, having acquired specialized equipment like freezers to store the volatile vaccines and computer access to Ohio’s immunization information system. However, limited vaccine availability means that Denison has not received any doses for widespread distribution and has only administered ‘leftover’ doses to eligible individuals when provided by the Licking County Health Department. Ohio is currently in phase 1B of vaccine distribution, which limits eligibility to those age 65 and older, healthcare workers and similar at-risk employment and those with certain health conditions over the age of 16.
Current guidelines state that face masks are required at all times when indoors, and required outdoors when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained between individuals. Face masks must completely cover the nose and mouth. Off-campus travel for students remains restricted to grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurant drive-thru and take-out, though students are strongly encouraged to utilize delivery services. By drawing on lessons learned from last semester, Denison hopes to successfully mitigate COVID on campus.