The U.S. recently passed 400,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. With colder temperatures and less opportunities for outdoor activities, medical professionals have warned the public of a bleak winter.
After 52 days of winter break, Goshen College is back for a second semester of in-person classes and extracurriculars in the midst of the worsening pandemic.
Many of Goshen College’s policies are the same as last semester: the Big Four, the locations for isolation and quarantine, and restricted entry to residence halls and buildings. However, in order to prevent an outbreak like last semester, the Pandemic Task Force has added a variety of new policies regarding testing and non-compliance fines.
“We just know more than we did in August” GC president Rebecca Stoltzfus said, “the measures that we’re taking feel less abnormal than they did at first.”
Most notably, mandatory weekly surveillance testing of all students will be conducted. Students will be contacted if their test is positive within two hours, and no contact will be made if it is negative.
All students, unless fully vaccinated or recently diagnosed with COVID-19, were required to present a negative test to return to campus. According to lead contact tracer Kevin Miller, this screening caught four positive cases, three of which were caught before the student left home and two of which were asymptomatic.
“We might have had some spread before we even realized that we had a case,” Miller said. There is currently only one student isolating in Kenwood.
Last semester, 131 students and employees tested positive for COVID-19, with students accounting for 117 of those cases. This semester, new changes are being implemented to ensure that GC will remain open and that the spread of COVID-19 is minimal.
When commenting on last semester’s flux in cases, Miller cited small group housing and athletics as two of the biggest sources of spread. He also noticed that as the local numbers rose in the community, so did GC’s.
“We are within, and embedded in, Elkhart County,” Miller said. “And I could definitely see some increasing trends in that last week of school, with more employees and commuter students testing positive. That was a direct result of the rapid increase that was happening in the county.”
Elkhart County is currently in the red advisory zone, according to the Indiana State Department of Health, with 16.13% of all tests conducted within a seven day period coming back positive.
Last semester, rapid tests were few and far between, due to limited availability. Abbott Laboratories, the producer of the rapid test kits that will be used this semester, had a contract with the U.S. government for the first 150 million kits, meaning that they weren’t available for commercial purchase.
GC did, however, receive 12,000 of these rapid tests directly from the state in November, Miller said, and they were used to screen students before they returned home.
“They had a big supply leftover, so they made those available to smaller colleges,” Miller said. Soon after, the administration “became aware that Abbott was going to market these starting in January at $5 a piece.”
The administration committed to frequent surveillance testing on campus, eventually deciding on a weekly schedule after hearing from students, faculty and staff.
“Doing weekly testing, we estimated that we would have to buy at least 8,000 test kits, which would be $40,000,” Miller said.
This price will most likely be entirely covered by the second COVID-19 relief package, which was recently passed by Congress and which dedicates money to higher education.
In addition to weekly testing, GC will continue to fine students for non-compliance.
On Jan. 6, Student Life sent an email informing students of the policy. Students will be fined $20 to their student account if they are “reported multiple times on different days” for breaking residential visitation policies, not wearing a mask while inside campus buildings or violating quarantine and isolation rules.
Students who are contact-traced will be spending significantly less time in quarantine this semester than in the fall. Following CDC recommendations, quarantined people will only be required to spend seven days in quarantine as long as they have a negative test six to seven days after exposure.
“In-person instruction seems to be much preferred to students and professors alike,” Miller said.
The mental and academic burden of quarantined students will be significantly lighter this semester, due to the shortened timeline.
Although they might add an extra sense of security, both Miller and Stoltzfus emphasized that these changes do not make the Big Four any less important. They are just an extra layer of prevention.
“Testing in and of itself doesn’t prevent Covid transmission” Stoltzfus said, “it’s the other things that prevent Covid transmission, and we cannot relax on those measures.”
In terms of the newly developed vaccines and its distribution, Goshen College is in conversation with the Elkhart County Health Department about eventually distributing on campus. Although the decision has not yet been made about whether vaccination will eventually be required, it is certainly a possibility.
“Our country has precedent for required immunizations,” Miller said, adding that “we’re a private institution, so we would have that capability of requiring it”
Overall, having in-person classes in a pandemic is all about finding balance.
“What I want is for there to be zero Covid cases on our campus,” said Stoltzfus, “and the hard thing is that’s not the only thing I want, I want for people to be engaged with each other on campus...and so those two wants are in tension with each other. That’s trying to find this imperfect balance between vulnerability to the virus and still having a meaningful life. There’s just no perfection here.”