Keene State College has reopened its facilities following their closing on May 6 due to a surge in COVID cases.
The school made the decision to limit access to the recreation center, student center and Zorn Dining Commons after the school reached 47 cases and 82 quarantines in just one week. President Melinda Treadwell made the announcement to reopen facilities on May 13, despite active cases having increased to 58.
Treadwell said that, as of Monday, May 10, the school had 55 active cases and 12 individuals had finished their 10-day isolation period, bringing the case count down to 43. On Monday and Tuesday testing of that week, the school reported 15 new cases which brought the count up to 58.
“We’re holding steady to where we were last week,” Treadwell said. “We didn’t bump up again.” Prior to the outbreak on May 6, Keene State had been averaging at about 15 new cases per week. Treadwell also added that, despite cases being high, the school still has readily available beds for individuals who need to quarantine or isolate.
According to the COVID-19 status and summary data on the college website, only 13 of the school’s isolation beds are in use out of 133 and only one quarantine bed is in use out of a total of 30 total.
Treadwell said she is always looking at the school’s COVID-19 data. “It’s a daily obsession for me.”
The school’s original decision to limit access to the recreation center, student center and Zorn Dining Commons was to take steps to limit any further transmission of the virus, Treadwell said.
“I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think it was necessary until we were sure where these cases were,” Treadwell said.
Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte said the school found that these locations were not locations of active spread and instead infection is more likely to occur in “social settings.” Although the school cannot trace where infection actually occurs, Ricaurte said she is confident the virus is less likely to be transmitted in locations like the student center, dining commons and the recreation center due to restrictions and protocols in place. Ricaurte added that the school has individuals going around and monitoring these locations to make sure masks are worn, and individuals are socially distanced.
Treadwell said the Rapid Response Team was able to trace the origin for certain cases from the outbreak to various social events.
“The LLC cases we were seeing, we could trace to a Greek Life event and some off- campus parties,” Treadwell said. “So, Butler Court, Pondside, LLC and Carle. I think, in all those cases, we were able to track where, we believe, through the Rapid Response Team, the point of origin was.”
Keene State College COVID-19 Project Team Leader Dr. Wayne Hartz said he thinks the presence of the COVID-19 variants in the area can be attributed to the rise in cases. Hartz said that the B.1.1.7 variant, popularly dubbed the U.K. Variant, is more transmissible than the strain that had been fluctuating in the community.
“It takes less of a dose, less of an exposure and it spreads easier,” Hartz said. “Couple that with continued at-risk behavior like going to a bar and partying.”
Hartz added that another challenge with the virus is that asymptomatic individuals can contract the virus without knowing they were infected.
The school has three primary criteria to be met for the school to remain open during the pandemic, Hartz said. These are making sure the Wellness Center can keep up with infected individuals, there are enough people on the Rapid Response Team to treat and contact individuals who need to isolate or quarantine and lastly that there are enough quarantine beds available at the school.
“So if we get to a point where all three of those things are starting to go ‘uh-oh,’ worst comes to worst, we will close the school early,” Hartz said.
Hartz said that the priorities of the school and Treadwell are minimizing infection on campus.
“The president is part of our COVID leadership team and she says ‘I don’t care about Commencement, I don’t care about anything else. We have a commitment to minimize infection,’” Hartz said.
“I won’t hesitate to [close the school] if our numbers climb to a level where we just aren’t sure and we need to keep people safe,” Treadwell said. “My primary obligation is to the students and the communities around us.”
Keene State College is stressing mask-wearing and spacing as the semester comes to a close. Even as the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals are allowed to not wear a mask in most social gatherings, the college will still require masking for all individuals on campus, vaccinated or not, for the remainder of the semester. Ricaurte said the school will be looking into whether or not it will require masks in the fall.
As of May 18, the college currently has 24 active cases. Ten of these cases are off-campus students. Fourteen are on-campus. There are no staff or faculty cases.
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