Four hundred and fifty-four students tested negative for the coronavirus on campus last week as part of the college’s weekly surveillance testing effort. The first week of testing launched Jan. 17, and no participating students have yet tested positive.
Since Jan. 11, six cumulative positive cases have been reported at GC, though these positive results – five in the past and one current – all originated off campus and stayed off campus, according to lead contact tracer Kevin Miller.
In addition to the surveillance testing efforts, 71 students and employees have reported receiving at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Miller does not see a connection between the 71 vaccinated persons and the absent number of positive test results on campus.
“Full immunity takes about two weeks after the second vaccine dose and there are relatively few people in our GC community who are at that point,” he said.
“How do we explain zero positives thus far?” Miller said. “There are at least two factors that probably contribute to this good state: The return-to-campus testing meant that we are starting the semester with a clean slate, and new daily COVID-19 cases in Elkhart County have been steadily dropping in the last three to four weeks, so that may be contributing to the low incidence in our GC community.”
The weekly surveillance tests are administered by student volunteers from a variety of disciplines including nursing, public health, biology and chemistry.
For the student volunteers, the benefits of being involved are numerous, though not all of the benefits were clear to the volunteers from the start.
Cailin Smith, a senior molecular biology major, signed up to volunteer with testing having had experience with aseptic technique in her science classes.
“I told my mom, a school nurse, that I was volunteering to test for COVID-19,” Smith said. “And she told me that because of that, I qualified through the state to get a vaccine.”
According to the Indiana Department of Health, Smith is eligible for the vaccine as she is potentially exposed to COVID-19 infectious material.
Smith has since registered to receive a vaccine in early February.
With no precedent at GC to require a vaccine still in the emergency use category, Miller says the college is discussing the legal considerations around doing so.
“We have already been approached by the Elkhart County Health Department about setting up vaccine clinics on campus for the GC community, once it becomes widely available to our population,” Miller said. “We would likely set up a series of clinics staffed by student nurses as well as other faculty and staff nurses.”
According to a survey conducted by the college in December, 80% of students and employees said they would take the vaccine if offered to them, 9% said they would decline and 11% are still unsure.
“Having 80% of students and employees [in the survey] indicate their readiness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, plus another 11% who might be open to it, is very encouraging,” Miller said. “Even if we eventually require it of the GC community, there would be consideration for possible exceptions.”
Low numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus paired with increasing vaccine availability does not remove the need for mask wearing or distance, Miller said.
“Weekly testing is in addition to the Big Four, not in place of them,” he said. “Maybe we need to begin speaking in terms of the Big Five.”