Orientation, First Week of Classes Go Remote Due to Test Processing Delays


Photo by Katherine MacPhail

College students stand in a socially-distanced line to enter Stevenson Dining Hall. Scheduled visits to a dining hall are the only time students are permitted to leave their dorm room until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.

Some students who arrive on campus this week are quarantining for longer than expected while they await their COVID-19 test results. Tempus, the Chicago-based company that processes the College’s tests, originally promised to deliver test results within 24–48 hours but is experiencing delays due to increased demand. In response, the College has decided to conduct the first week of classes, beginning this Monday, online. 

“Rather than receiving our test results within 48 hours of the lab receiving them, we will not get our results for at least four days, and perhaps a few days more,” read an Aug. 10 email from President Carmen Twillie Ambar to students, faculty, staff, and parents. 

Some students have still received results within 48 hours, while others have had to wait five or more days.

The College adjusted its original plan in consultation with Tempus and Lorain County Public Health. Previously, when the College expected to quarantine students for 48 hours, they planned to deliver meals to each student’s room. Now, the quarantine includes short, scheduled times for students to pick up to-go food from the dining halls. Students must abide by the ObieSafe guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing while retrieving their food. 

“Because many students will not have refrigeration or heating options, it was difficult to create a healthy, shelf-stable daily menu for more than 48 hours,” Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo wrote in an email to the Review. “Given the extension of the quarantine, allowing students an opportunity to briefly get outside seemed like an important way to bolster student wellness. … Walking directly [to a dining hall] and back is the only time students should leave their assigned housing until they receive notification of a negative COVID-19 test result.

This week’s orientation activities were designed to help students keep busy during the quarantine period, as well as to introduce them to the College. Events included virtual museum visits, Yeofit exercise courses that can be done in a dorm room, remote socializing opportunities, voter information sessions, virtual floor meetings, and more. 

“Our goal was really to continue to provide activities to keep everybody entertained while they’re in their rooms. … We are cognizant of the isolation that people could feel and are trying to alleviate that as much as possible,” said Tina Zwegat, director of orientation and student activities and associate director of the student union.

All students, regardless of when they receive their COVID-19 test results, will attend classes over Zoom from their dorm rooms, Village Housing, or off-campus housing during the first week. 

President Ambar stated that she does not expect the difficulties other parts of the country are seeing — such as two-or-more week delays in test results and a shortage of tests for symptomatic individuals — to be a problem for Oberlin. 

“Our partner adhered to its promise that it would not take on more clients than it had capacity to handle,” President Ambar wrote in her Aug. 10 email to faculty, staff, students, and parents. “However, governmental entities, national pharmacies, and nursing homes (the other clients of our lab partner) are inundating the lab with tests from hot spots of symptomatic individuals.” 

Tempus’ lab is in the process of hiring 50 more people to help address the administrative backlog, and the company is hopeful that this measure will reduce the processing period to their original 48-hour promise, according to President Ambar’s email.

President Ambar stated that she does not believe this delay will impact the College’s long-term plan to test a quarter of all students, faculty, and staff each week — every individual once a month — or its plan to test anyone who develops symptoms. 

“We will feel this delay in Phase 1 of our testing during August more than the balance of the semester when we will be using surveillance testing to track the virus’ spread,” President Ambar wrote. 

Students who travel to Oberlin from an international location and those traveling from or through a domestic hot spot will undergo an additional COVID-19 test approximately one week after they arrive on campus. As of last Tuesday, two individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 1,083 who were tested. 

“This is not the way any of us wanted to start the semester,” President Ambar wrote. “But here is what I know. This is going to be a year where we have to become comfortable with responding, not reacting.s