By Chris Strong
Principia College community members gathered for a virtual metaphysical meeting today, urging community growth and forgiveness in the wake of the first positive student case of COVID-19 on campus. The student was tested Monday morning, Sept. 21, along with other students identified at a party in Ferguson House on Saturday, Sept. 19, according to an email sent from the President’s Office Monday evening.
There are 17 students quarantined in Gehner, all of whom were at the party or in close contact with the positive student since Friday. There are students in Gehner from all student houses except Lowrey, Anderson, and Williams, says Emma Flavin, director of Christian Science Nursing at the College.
Flavin contacted the Jersey County Health Department to report the positive case. She held a meeting with the quarantined students Monday evening to advise them on the strict isolation protocols. Each student elected to take a COVID-19 test on Monday or Tuesday, and all tests have come back negative except for the one positive student.
One week ago, starting Monday, Sept. 14, Principia’s campus moved into the Yellow Phase of a set of declining precautions on campus, allowing students to leave campus if necessary and go unmasked in their own houses. The positive student went to Alton during the Yellow Phase, as was permitted, so the case may have originated off campus.
“It is important to know that we have not had an outbreak,” President John Williams wrote in a Watercooler announcement.
As a result of this incident, the College has returned to the Orange Phase and students will again be restricted to campus.
The Saturday night Ferguson party was discovered by Resident Counselor Noel Carlson. He heard noise upstairs and went to investigate. After knocking on the door and entering, Carlson found more than a dozen students in the dimly lit dorm room. According to a student who attended the party, no masks were worn by students at the event.
“We had them, [but] we only wore them while walking up to the room,” says the student.
Carlson asked to speak downstairs with the Ferguson resident in whose room the gathering took place. While doing so, the rest of the students returned to their own dorms.
Between the time the party was discovered Saturday night and one test came back positive on Monday, guidelines differed in the houses of students who attended the party and were determined by the respective Resident Counselors. Ferguson went into Red Phase while Brooks went into Orange Phase and house members were not allowed to leave campus. Joe McNabb remained in the Yellow Phase, choosing only to isolate the students who’d attended the party.
On Monday, Dietz made the determination to move all the involved houses back to the Yellow Phase in an effort to make the transitions to the Red and Orange Phases not seem like a punishment, but rather safety guidelines, according to an email from the Ferguson House Board. Instead of all students, only students who directly interacted with people in other houses without masks had to self-quarantine.
“As the story changed, we changed our response,” says Dietz.
On Sunday, prior to the student’s test returning, Principia began the process of contact tracing students found at the party, per the guidance of the Jersey County Health Department.
“If there was anyone there that had [COVID-19], before anyone got tested we needed to know who the people were so we can get them masked and quarantined,” says Dietz.
Contact tracing began with the few students Carlson identified Saturday night, and as the weekend progressed, the number of students coming forward about attending the party rose.
There is speculation among students that there are people that came and went from the party Saturday night who still have not come forward. Dietz urges those who may have been in contact with the positive student to isolate and get tested with the help of Principia.
“If there’s a possibility that you were exposed, the more useful thing for the care of the community is that you identify yourself,” says Dietz.
“People had to stop themselves and come forward. People said other people’s names, and eventually everyone came forward,” says the anonymous student who attended the party.
After the student’s test came back positive on Monday, 17 students in some form of close contact were told to pack and move into Gehner House to quarantine until further notice. This group includes 16 people that attended Saturday night’s event, as well as the student’s roommate.
The student was asymptomatic and unaware they had COVID-19 until they tested positive on Monday. They were retested Tuesday with a more thorough, accurate technology which should show results by Thursday, Sept. 24, says Flavin.
Regardless of test results, each quarantined student will have to stay in isolation for 14 days before returning to in-person classes and jobs.
It is possible that Principia College is at a turning point in the semester. Dean Dietz has emphasized the importance of working as a whole, and expressing care for each other in order to keep the Principia community thriving for the fall.
Continue with daily screenings and treat them with importance, the administration urges. Wear a mask. If feeling any symptoms, call Cox Cottage at extension 5000 and a nurse will explain the protocols.
Featured photo is of a poster in Anderson House explaining the protocols required by the Orange Phase. Photo by Amanda Schwabe.