This evening, President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced that over 50 students had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past day. In response to this rise in cases, all classes will be held remotely in the final two days before winter break and all in-person gatherings, concerts, and athletic events prior to winter break will be canceled. Before this spike in cases, President Ambar announced several updates to COVID-19 protocols in a campus-wide email this afternoon. The College is still determining whether the new surge in positive cases will impact ObieSafe protocols after winter break.
The initial changes include mandating booster shots, effective Feb. 18, and increasing testing availability. Additionally, Campus Dining Services has halted indoor dining and will provide food via grab-and-go boxes only through Winter Term. Professors will be required to offer remote classes through the remainder of the semester for students who wish not to return to campus in January.
Several co-ops made announcements this morning that they will close their operations through winter break, effective immediately. Through Dec. 22, students in these co-ops will have two meal swipes per day and will still have access to co-op kitchens for individual use. The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association is currently developing a plan to provide grab-and-go options for co-op members in January, in accordance with the College’s policy. The decision to close OSCA co-ops was not made by the College.
To respond to an overwhelming increase in demand for testing, the College will expand testing hours for symptomatic individuals and close contacts of people with positive tests at Hales Gymnasium. Testing will be available to individuals who meet these criteria from 8 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1 p.m.–8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. Over 200 students received a take-home rapid test from Student Health today.
“As is the case all across the country, Oberlin has a limited number of rapid tests available,” President Ambar wrote in her email tonight. “For that reason I ask that you only show up for testing if you meet the following criteria: students who are symptomatic, students who are a close contact to someone who tested positive. Remember that close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of a positive person for 15 minutes or longer up to two days prior to their symptom onset. If both people were wearing a mask at the time, you are not deemed a close contact.”
According to President Ambar’s email, students, faculty, and staff will be required to receive a booster shot by the start of the spring semester on Feb. 18. Additionally, students returning to campus in January after winter break will be tested upon arrival, but they will not be required to quarantine while waiting for results. The College will also test students returning to campus for Winter Term, spring semester, and the end of spring break.
“Everyone will have to be tested,” President Ambar wrote in her email this afternoon. “Just like in the past, we want to find a baseline so we can get a sense of what’s happening on our campus. We’re also adding capacity for voluntary walk-in COVID testing this winter and spring. So those of you who have concerns, you’ll have a more convenient testing opportunity available to you.”
As of Dec. 15, 1,558 students had applied to remain on campus during Winter Term. While it is unclear how the spread of COVID-19 will impact student presence on campus during those weeks, the College is providing remote options for students who do not plan to remain on campus to complete their Winter Term requirement.
“We are currently looking at options for Winter Term offerings that don’t lend themselves to remote experiences,” President Ambar wrote in her afternoon email. “But the point here is that you can return to campus in early January and during Winter Term, and the remote option will allow you to remain off campus should you choose to, and still be able to participate in the academic experience. We are making this change to give ourselves the maximum amount of time for our entire campus to get booster shots before the spring term.”
Despite an increase in concern among students, the College says there have not been any hospitalizations due to COVID-19. The College is strongly urging students to be vigilant about mask wearing in the final two days before winter break.
Students who test positive prior to winter break and who need to isolate themselves on campus will receive food and support from the College. Please email the ObieSafe team to inform the College of a positive test result not administered by the College’s testing protocol.