Our two-week period of enhanced physical distancing was scheduled to come to an end at midnight tonight, so we wanted to update the community on next steps in this process.
First, we would like to thank everyone for their work these past two weeks in slowing what had been an alarming set of numbers, including students in isolation (positive test result), students in quarantine (deemed a close contact of someone with a positive test result) and our positivity rates for students with symptoms (diagnostic testing).
Early in the two-week period, the numbers continued to rise and then last week, as our actions to slow the spread started to take effect, we started to see encouraging trendswith fewer students in isolation, fewer students in quarantine and dropping positivity rates.
As of this morning (Monday, Feb. 22), we have 35 students in isolation (21 on-campus students and 14 off-campus students) and 87 students in quarantine (57 on-campus students and 30 off-campus students). The 123 students total in isolation and quarantine compares to 300 such students in those two situations at one point last week.
Our positivity rates for diagnostic tests (students with symptoms) are still too high (far higher than rates in the state and the county), so we continue to keep a close eye on that number. But the evidence suggests that what was put into place at the start of the enhanced physical distancing period – the new restrictions on social gathering, take-out food in the dining halls, the calls for earlier reporting of symptoms and more – is making a difference.
Indeed, we are grateful that more students now are reporting symptoms and seeking testing almost immediately, and we are pleased that students now report fewer close contacts than at the beginning of the semester. At one point this semester, our contact tracers were working with 10-15 close contacts per positive student. More recently, that number is down to fewer than five close contacts per positive student. Students also are being more careful about where they eat and are not eating with big groups in small spaces, which is critical to stopping the spread.
All of these are positive signs, and we are grateful to the Calvin community for your diligence, sacrifice, and commitment these past two weeks. It paid off!
A Gradual Lifting of Enhanced Physical Distancing
As a result of the positive downward trends we are seeing, we are beginning to slowly reduce some of the measures that we put into place on Feb. 8 at the start of the two-week period of enhanced physical distancing.
For example, last week we opened some recreation opportunities on campus, with strict social distancing and mask requirements, and on Friday, we sent an email to all faculty asking that classes that had transitioned to remote learning during the two-week period be transitioned back to in-person instruction.
We are also inventorying all on-campus dining locations to determine when and where we can begin to reopen these facilities. In addition to assessing the risk of spread in common eating areas, we will also make decisions based on the health and safety of the Calvin Dining Services staff team. When we determine it is safe and wise to re-open these spaces for dine-in eating, there will likely be a phased-in approach and limited seating.
We are hopeful that we will be able to return to having dine-in seating options in the dining halls in the next week or so, depending on the continued downward trend of positive cases on campus. More details will be coming later this week to outline what the next phase of campus dining reopening will look like. In the meantime, take-out options continue to be available for all students, and these options will remain even when dine-in options return, so that those who feel more comfortable eating on their own or with their roommate are able to do so.
In the residence halls and apartments on campus, students may gather for studying and socializing in public areas, within space occupancy limits and including masks and physical distancing. Smaller events for floor communities can be planned within COVID guidelines as well. Visitors to students' rooms and apartments will continue to be restricted as we work to ensure that the downward trend continues, but we hope to open to room visitors soon. More details on the lifting of residential restrictions will be outlined in a separate email to on-campus residents.
Our collective efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19 are working. As we assess the impact of these measures, we are eager to continue to roll out phased, incremental changes that will allow us to return to the aspects of living and learning on campus that we all appreciated before this most recent spike in cases.
We will continue to update the campus on a weekly basis as to what new steps have and will be taken on the road to a return to a more normal campus life. You can expect the next update to come on Tuesday, March 2 as we return to our regular Tuesday CRT update schedule.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone to stay the course and to keep doing the things we know to be effective in stopping the spread of the virus: wear face coverings, maintain physical distance, and adhere to health and safety protocols.
Other Important COVID-Related Updates
We also want to provide a couple of quick updates on other matters connected to COVID-19 and our all-campus response.
First, our Quarantine Care Campaign has been a big success, and due to many generous donations, we are now able to offer a starter pack of high-quality supplements at the low cost of $10 to those diagnosed with COVID-19. The retail value of these supplements is $78, but with the wholesale discount we are receiving, and the donations that have come in, the cost to students has been reduced to just $10.
We continue to receive inquiries from those who would like to contribute to this effort, and financial gifts are still being accepted to help reduce the cost of peak flow meters, incentive spirometers, and pulse oximeters as well as supplemental vitamins recommended for our students with COVID-19. Those who wish to contribute may make a gift at calvin.edu/go/give (please designate “Quarantine Care Campaign").
Second, our surveillance testing program for asymptomatic students is set to return on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Last semester, we found this random testing of students without COVID symptoms to be an important tool in our work to slow the spread of the virus on campus. This testing helped us identify people who had COVID-19 but did not yet have symptoms and did not know they were contagious.
This testing is meant for people who do NOT have COVID-19 symptoms. Students who are symptomatic should continue to report their symptoms through #CampusClear and the Health Services patient portal. Same-day testing appointments are available Monday-Friday for sick students as indicated by CDC guidelines, so reporting through these tools is still the best and fastest way to be scheduled for a COVID test and other diagnostic tests in the early stages of illness.
Thanks for your attention to this update, and thanks to all for the continued strong communal response in the fight against COVID-19. We are in this together!
Stay healthy, stay strong, stay safe.
The COVID-Response Team
Phil de Haan
Todd Hubers (co-chair)
Sarah Visser (co-chair)