Six students tested positive this week after almost four weeks of a COVID-19-free campus, putting nine students and one employee in quarantine.
According to Kevin Miller, lead contact tracer, all of these cases are directly connected to the same source. The first positive case was caught during the on-campus surveillance testing last Thursday, and it is suspected that the student contracted the virus on a weekend trip off-campus to visit family.
“In a way, that’s good,” Miller said, saying that it is comforting to know that the student probably was not infected at GC.
Additionally, the student had reported symptoms earlier in the day, so Miller is confident that the case would have been caught eventually. Their close contacts were immediately called and tested shortly after, with two testing positive that same day.
“In hindsight, many of them noted that they were having mild symptoms,” Miller said.
GC uses Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW antigen test for surveillance testing. This rapid test is most accurate for patients exhibiting symptoms, and does a poorer job catching asymptomatic cases. PCR tests are more reliable when it comes to asymptomatic carriers, but are more expensive, less available and have a significantly longer results period.
After the mini-surge on Thursday, the Pandemic Task Force (PTF) sent out an updated email to the GC community, reminding everyone of the importance of reporting any symptoms, no matter how mild, using the COVID-19 Reporting Form.
According to Miller, the form has already done its job this semester, even before the first positive cases.
“So far this semester, we have 59 forms,” he said on Monday, “And 40 of those ended up amounting to nothing.”
The email also encouraged students to begin double masking, or to use replaceable filters in their reusable masks. According to Miller, these are both practices that protect against both droplets and aerosols and have proven effective against some of the highly contagious COVID-19 variants.
The update also highlighted the number of people on campus who have been vaccinated.
“So far, 122 people — 78 students and 44 employees — have received at least one shot, and 81 of those have received both doses!” the email said.
According to Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait, Elkhart County is vaccinating approximately 8,200 people a week.
With some students vaccinated, weekly surveillance testing and a lower local positivity rate, some restrictions are loosening on campus. The on-campus visitation policy was changed on Jan. 29, allowing students to visit residencies that are not their own.
Miller explained that the previous restrictions were somewhat arbitrary, and he also noted that students were mingling plenty in many other settings.
While the decision was made based on student feedback, it wasn’t unanimous. The PTF has received some feedback from students who don’t like the change.
Despite the recent positive tests, Miller is optimistic about the next 11 weeks, and hopes that with all the measures in place, GC can avoid “a second hurricane.”