College, Local Officials Continue to Respond to COVID-19 Outbreak

As more cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, are confirmed daily in the United States and around the world, local Oberlin leaders — both College administrators and City officials — continue to respond to the pandemic. Currently, the only publicly confirmed COVID-19 case in Oberlin is an employee in the College’s Campus Dining Services. This case was announced to the campus community in an email sent by President Carmen Twillie Ambar late Sunday night.

According to Interim Chief of Staff David Hertz, Lorain County Public Health and the College are in regular contact, and LCPH is conducting an ongoing investigation into the confirmed case on campus. Hertz added that LPCH stresses that people who feel ill should call student health services or the health department before going to a doctor’s office for treatment.

City Manager Rob Hillard says the level of concern in Oberlin is not different from any other community in Ohio.

“Our concerns are like everyone’s concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus,” Hillard said. “We’re being advised through the public health department [to take] a variety of actions. We’re taking independent action ourselves and appreciate the support of groups around Lorain County.”

Things have been largely quiet since the discovery of Oberlin’s first confirmed case. On Monday, nearly every student living in College-owned housing was required to vacate campus by noon. City officials have placed restrictions on who can enter municipal buildings, and only the police department is publicly accessible at this time. PK–12 classrooms are empty for the foreseeable future following a March 12 order from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine that originally closed schools for three weeks beginning Tuesday. Since the closure, Oberlin City Schools has maintained free breakfast and lunch options for its students; more information about pick-up times and locations is available on the district’s website.

As of Friday evening, the City has also suspended all yard waste and recycling pick-up; refuse collection is still available.

On Thursday morning, DeWine announced that he had activated more than 300 members of the Ohio National Guard to help deliver food to communities in need across the state. The soldiers have been deployed to 12 food warehouses that deliver food to residents across the state. One of the facilities is located in Lorain County.

There are currently six confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lorain County. According to Katie Bevan, a program manager at LCPH, this figure is likely an underestimate due to a nationwide shortage of test kits. Bevan hopes that, over the next few days, the relative severity of the outbreak within the county will become more clear.

“The more testing opportunities that are available, that will give us a clearer picture of what the data truly is,” Bevan said Wednesday. “We have been working with the local health care systems, all of them. And we also have been working with our local emergency management agency to coordinate more testing, talk them through drive-through [testing] options and what that means logistically. … We are hopeful that more testing will be available in Lorain County in the coming week.”

Representatives from LCPH declined to disclose whether any Lorain County residents had been hospitalized as a result of the virus, citing rapidly changing figures. As of publication, 39 people have been hospitalized statewide.

Hertz said that Oberlin students and community members should be prepared for the possibility that more students and residents, including some connected to the College, will likely test positive for the virus.

“As the pandemic has progressed, I think that it is prudent to expect that a number of people have been tested in Oberlin, whether they’re employees of the college, or connected to the college in other ways, or in the community,” Hertz said. “I think it’d be prudent to expect that eventually other people are going to be identified as having COVID-19 — that’s why we should all be careful and be prepared.”

Hertz added that the College’s communications will likely evolve as the pandemic progresses and that administrators will “communicate on an ongoing basis with information that will be helpful.” He added that even though there has been only one confirmed case on campus, health officials have indicated that it is likely that there are others in the larger community who are infected, and have suggested that College communications reflect the big picture rather than individual cases, to help accurately portray the public health situation.

If anybody who has recently lived or worked on campus does discover that they have contracted the virus, Hertz encourages them to be proactive in communicating with the College.

“It would be helpful for us to get communication from people who have left the College and may have become ill or exposed while they were here,” Hertz said, specifically referencing any students who returned home Monday. “If that’s the case and we learn it, we would certainly direct that [information] to the health department.”

Bevan notes that, in the midst of rapidly unfolding chaos, county residents have come together to support each other through crisis.

“What we’re hearing is that, across Lorain County, people are really reaching out and being great neighbors to one another,” Bevan said. “As in any crisis, this is such a great time to exercise our kindness, whether it’s extending a phone call to someone we haven’t talked to in a while or whether it’s dropping off a meal at someone’s doorstep. … People are really asking good questions and talking to their neighbors or their doctors about their concerns and needs, which is wonderful.”

Bevan also encourages residents to support local businesses by ordering takeout food and shopping safely, when possible.

“It’s just a time to really trust our local establishments and buy from them when possible, and to just keep considering how the virus is really affecting the entire community, not just one slice of the population,” Bevan said.

Hertz and Hillard both said that both the College and the City are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates to community members as needed.

“It’s been a methodical, orderly approach to what is a historic event, and so those efforts continue, and they’re going to unfold over the course of the next several days and then ongoing,” Hertz said. “Who knows how long this will last? So we have to prepare our students, our faculty, and our staff for the short term as well as the long term, and then protect the institution for the short term as well as the long term. And that’s a pretty complicated undertaking.”

Updates about the developing response to COVID-19 in Lorain County can be found at