COVID-19 on campus, policy changes

67 students in quarantine, isolation on campus

The start of the semester brings new changes to existing COVID-19 policies, and 34 students have been placed in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 exposure on campus. 

According to Allegheny College Health Agency’s Dr. Gabrielle Morrow, 15 students tested positive for COVID-19 on campus — those students are in isolation. An additional 52 students are in quarantine following contact tracing. There are currently no active COVID-19 cases among faculty and staff. 

“There are not that many students in quarantine and isolation,” said Allegheny Student Government President Abdikadir Lugundi, ’21. “Our numbers are very low and I am sure that we have lower numbers compared to other institutions. I just hope that we can keep that going so we can stay on campus and get as much out of our on-campus experience as we can.” 

Morrow sent an email to the campus community on Feb. 22 regarding COVID-19 testing results. According to Morrow, 1,141 students were tested during move-in and only two students tested positive for COVID-19 with 154 tests pending results. 

The next day, the ACHA sent another email to the campus community, which announced that there was an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus. The 154 remaining tests from move-in returned with five positive results. With contact tracing, six additional students were quarantined.

 “That is a very low number that reflects the thoughtfulness of Allegheny students,” ACHA wrote. “The vast majority of students are doing a great job keeping each other safe. However, a few students have been behaving in ways that violate the Gator Pledge. Those behaviors place the Allegheny and Meadville communities at risk and go against the commitment we have all made to keeping the campus safe … It is unacceptable to place students, employees, or members of the local community at risk.”

Morrow reminded students that last semester, the second round of testing unveiled clusters of COVID-19 on campus due to a student violating the Gator Pledge. 

“Students should expect that they will need to go off-campus and study remotely if they are not willing to uphold the Gator Pledge,” the ACHA stated. 

The second round of on-campus testing took place from Feb. 25-26 in the David V. Wise Center. 

In an email to the campus community, on March 1, Morrow announced the results of the second round of PCR testing. 1,184 students were tested with six tests returning positive for COVID-19. 

“This bodes well for a safe in-person semester,” Morrow wrote. “When evaluating the students who tested positive, I primarily noted common living situations and proximity/physical connections to students who tested positive during prior testing sessions in the past several weeks. I did not find any egregious behavior among those who are positive, so if you find yourself ascribing poor motives to COVID-19 positive students, please reconsider. The reality is that this is a highly contagious virus — far more contagious than influenza with a longer incubation period — so people who live in close proximity to each other are likely to infect each other.”

Rumors surfaced that students contracted COVID-19 from the dining halls, but Morrow denied that accusation. Parkhurst, however, has been advised to modify their procedures to ensure student safety is prioritized.  

“Over the next few days, we will be administering rapid tests to a random sampling of students and also to students who might have shared a bathroom or other space with a student who is positive for COVID-19,” Morrow announced. “If we feel that we have uncovered and managed all possible areas of contagion before March 4, we will happily lift the campus quarantine earlier.”

Until the testing is complete, students must remain on campus for the duration of the campus-wide quarantine, which was supposed to end on March 4.

Students can expect to be selected at random to continue community COVID-19 testing throughout the semester. ACHA will test 120-160 community members each day by invitation — no walk-ins are permitted.

“Also, plan for a positive result, just in case: employees should bring keys, wallet, and phone, and students should bring supplies for a potential 10-day isolation,” Morrow advised. “No one who tests positive may return to their workspace or living space. We have a quiet room reserved at the Wise Center for those who test positive to gather their thoughts, call family, and plan their isolation.”

ACHA has made several changes this semester in lieu of recent research released by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Water fountains have been turned back on and students are able to use them on campus. 

“Water fountains have been keeping me up at night,” Morrow wrote. “ACHA has made the carefully considered decision to reopen water fountains. The data on COVID-19 speaks to much higher transmission through the air, and the CDC has recommendations for frequent cleaning of water fountains, which we will follow at Allegheny College. Students have told us that they find closed water fountains burdensome, and since the risk is negligible, we will reopen them.”

Students will see more hand sanitizers, physical distancing mats and 20-second readings on campus in the near future, Morrow announced. These changes were led by students from Gaia Rancati’s ECON 230: Neuromarketing class. Any student interested in helping ACHA is encouraged to email Rancati. 

The institution and ACHA also introduced functional groups this semester.

“Thank you to the campus community for your continued effort and cooperation in creating a community of mutual care,” the college wrote to the campus community. “As part of our ongoing efforts to keep the campus community safe while offering in-person living and learning, we are excited to introduce functional groups. Functional groups are a safe way for our community members to be socially connected to each other and to care for themselves physically and emotionally.”

Functional groups were created by NCAA to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, which has already been used by the athletic department. These groups are students who participate in the same activities. 

“I think that it is great that the school is lining up clubs to have more participation,” Lugundi said. “Our clubs are struggling to get participation, especially among first-year students and I think this may be a good way to increase participation and attempt to alleviate this issue.” 

ASG-recognized organizations are also encouraged to join a functional group to socialize more this semester. 

“This is a strategy for mitigating virus spread by keeping our physical circle small and allowing for quick contact tracing,” the college announced. “All community groups who choose to participate in functional groups must register such participation with ACHA by email, with the advisor (of the organization) copied. Please include the advisor’s name, the names of the members of the group in your email and detail your plans for safe congregation.”

Despite the changes, all students are still required to obey the Gator Pledge and existing policies for congregations, including masking and physical distancing.