Administration relaxes COVID-19 measures as number of new daily cases begin to decline

With the surge in COVID cases over for the time being, the college has relaxed protocols like take-out meals and the prohibition on cross-visitation. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

With the surge in COVID cases over for the time being, the college has relaxed protocols like take-out meals and the prohibition on cross-visitation. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

Tyler Makover

After a record 156 COVID-19 active cases was reported Tuesday afternoon, the number of quarantined students as of this Wednesday has finally begun to tick downwards, as of this Wednesday.

The spike began Sept. 10, with ten new cases reported. The following Monday, a single-day high of 43 people tested positive. With limited on-campus housing options, the vast majority of students who tested positive within a 300 mile radius of campus were forced by the college to go home, while the rest were placed in isolation housing or hotels in the area. Now as cases slowly decline, the administration had relaxed some of their precautionary measures. 

This past Monday, a week after the case surge, the COVID-19 Action Group released a statement to the Lafayette community which rescinded many of the protocols that were put in place last week. Those protocols called a halt to in-person dining, cross visitation and social gatherings. Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, director of Health Services for the Bailey Health Center, explained that the guidelines were a temporary measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“We implemented guidelines and recommendations because of the large number of breakthrough cases we were seeing to prevent a more widespread outbreak. As the case counts continue to decline, we will recommend that the additional mitigation strategies which were implemented as result of the recent outbreak can be changed,” he said. 

Dining halls are no longer strictly grab-and-go meals, as they have been since Friday last week. Cross visitation between dorms will once again be permitted and events can continue as planned, but the college urges groups to be mindful of health precautions.

However, some of the precautions will remain in effect, along with additional mitigation measures. Visitors to campus are required to provide proof of vaccination regardless of mask usage. Prior to COVID, all guests who stay overnight must be registered with the school but has sent out a reminder in light of the uptick in cases. Additionally, the COVID-19 Action Group’s statement strongly discouraged large social gatherings. 

“Large, indoor, or outdoor high-risk events—such as parties involving unmasked participants—remain problematic, not least of all because if someone in the group tests positive for COVID-19, the number and names of close contacts can be unreliable,” the statement read.

The effect of this on upcoming events remains unclear. According to Wednesday’s edition of Lafayette Today, Family Weekend will continue as planned beginning this Friday, with guests traveling to campus locations ranging from the Kirby Sports Center to Marquis Dining Hall.The inauguration of President Nicole Hurd on Oct. 1 is also set to occur on schedule.

However, the effects of the outbreak are far from over. Dan Elmi ‘22, who lives within 300 miles of the college, is currently in isolation housing in March Hall. Although he is vaccinated, he tested positive for COVID last Friday. He is still in quarantine but is feeling reassured that his at-risk family members are safe.

“I didn’t go [back home] because I have grandparents living there, and I didn’t even want to give them the slightest chance at contracting the virus from me. Isolation housing is fine, I’m just happy my family is staying far away from me,” he said.

Students who have not tested positive are still feeling the impact of the last two weeks. When the news of remote classes was released by some of his professors, Ethan Riehl ‘22 felt a pang of déjà vu.

“I personally was not a fan of returning back to online with what has been happening lately. I started college off with classes in person, and I really liked it. And then, once we switched online, I kind of lost the feel of a real college experience. I was glad we got that back at the beginning of this semester. The push to go back online definitely made me nervous,” Riehl said.

Those in the administration encourage the student body and staff to stay vigilant in protecting health moving forward. Annette Diorio, the vice president of campus life, emphasized that the new guidelines do not mean an end to the COVID threat. Rather, it is an attempt to balance the risks with enjoying life on campus. 

“My recommendation for students is this: wear your masks inside buildings that everyone is sharing, do as much fun stuff as you can outside, wash your hands a lot, avoid exceptionally crowded and unmasked indoor settings–bars, social events in private facilities–and understand we will see some COVID cases, but there remains strong evidence that vaccines protect us from the worst health outcomes,” Diorio said. “We need to live in a world that has COVID and we can do that while we enjoy being together and sharing this beautiful campus.”