After three consecutive weeks with zero new COVID-19 cases on campus, six people tested positive for the virus yesterday, including four students, one faculty member, and one staff member. These six positive tests were administered on Friday, and the College received the results yesterday afternoon, according to an email from President Carmen Twillie Ambar.
Prior to yesterday’s cases, there were only 13 positive COVID-19 tests out of almost 7,500 administered since campus reopened this August.
The six recent cases do not seem to be connected to each other, according to Chief of Staff David Hertz, who oversees the College’s health strategy.
“We don’t believe there was a super-spreader event,” Hertz said. “Every time we get any positives we run analytics to see if there’s any patterns that emerge and there don’t seem to be any patterns with this. … We would get that information, not only from our analytics, but also from our contact tracing conversations. That’s why it’s so important for students, faculty, staff, anyone contacted by a contact tracer, to be honest in their answers and forthcoming.”
The recent six cases on campus come after data from this past week showed that Lorain County experienced its largest daily rise in cases since early July. Ohio has a 4.9 percent positivity rate, up from a low of 2.5 percent in mid-September. The World Health Organization recommends that positivity should remain under 5 percent for safe reopening.
“I really want to stress that this is not a surprise,” Hertz said. “The surprise was that we were at zero percent positivity in our testing protocol for the month of October until this happened. That was the pleasant surprise. We’re prepared for this kind of thing and we’re following our protocols. I don’t think anyone really does know what to attribute this to, other than the general spread that’s happening in our community.”
The four students who tested positive are in isolation at the Hotel at Oberlin, and the staff and faculty member are both isolating as well. The College began its contact tracing process last night and has identified some individuals who may have been exposed. Students will be asked to quarantine due to exposure if they were within six feet of an asymptomatic person with COVID-19 who was not wearing a mask for more than 15 minutes. If a student was exposed to a symptomatic person with COVID-19, they may be asked to quarantine even if they were wearing masks.
Students who were exposed will be tested today or tomorrow and are being transported to either Fairchild House or Keep Cottage to quarantine. If students test positive for COVID-19 they will be moved to the hotel for isolation. Those who test negative and have no symptoms will remain in Fairchild or Keep and quarantine for 14 days.
In a special ObieSafe email update to students, faculty, staff, and parents, President Ambar reminded the Oberlin community of the importance of vigilance.
“While Oberlin’s testing program results have been promising up to this point, it’s important to be aware of the larger trends, both nationally and locally, and to keep in mind that viral spread can occur very quickly if we are not continually vigilant on campus and off, especially as time spent indoors increases with the change of seasons,” President Ambar wrote.
Hertz agrees, highlighting the College’s layered health strategy and constant communication with Lorain County Public Health and other health experts.
“The system is working and we’re hoping that everyone gets well quickly and that the exposure is to a minimum,” Hertz said. “We’re going to continue to follow our procedures, try to improve upon them, expand our testing as we can, and just really urge people to wear masks. We were getting some reports that there had been some relaxation in that regard. We really need people to be vigilant, to wear their masks, to wash their hands, to urge their friends and neighbors to do the same, and to maintain that distance.”
Yesterday’s regular ObieSafe email also reminded students of policies for indoor gatherings, which are expected to increase with the colder weather. Students may only have up to two other students in their dorm room, must wear masks, and must maintain six feet of distance.
For more information on COVID-19 safety on campus, visit the ObieSafe website.