Sept. 4, 2020 | By Riley Prillwitz | Illustration by Bibi Powers
Colorado College put in a strong-willed effort to make an in-person semester possible for its students. But after only a few weeks back on campus, it has been shown that, despite many precautions in place, having a large number of students on campus is simply not currently feasible.
Emails about new cases have been frequently sent out since move-in at the beginning of Block 1. As of Sept. 2, there are 13 confirmed cases. Because of the rising case count over the previous week, Mathias and South Halls entered a 14-day quarantine of all residents on Aug. 29.
The administration states that per El Paso County health recommendation, the mass quarantining of dorm residents is the safest method of containment at this time. However, this living situation takes a toll on students, and the threat of coronavirus contamination still looms.
Brian Young, Vice President for ITS and Chair of the Prevention Work Team, is familiar with the protocol in the event of a positive case. “Positive cases are immediately informed through health providers to El Paso County Health and the school gets notified to do contact tracing,” he said. “The tracing happens almost immediately after the county informs the school.”
“We’re working closely with county health and all of our partners to really understand what the parameters [are] with which we can make sure we have a safe and secure environment for our students,” Young continued.
At this point, students in all three big dorms on campus have gone through or are currently in a quarantine period, which entails being constrained to their rooms for almost 24 hours a day.
Leyla Kramarsky ’24 was one of the Loomis residents who underwent the 14-day quarantine inside the dorm. She found out on Aug. 17 that she was to stay in her dorm for an entire two-week period. For her, going home to New York was not an option she wanted to pursue.
“I got a text from my RA around noon asking me to come back to my dorm and stay inside,” Kramarsky said. “That night we had a Loomis Zoom [call] and Sergio (the RLC) told us that we were entering a two-week quarantine period. It was a pretty bleak Zoom call.”
Though quarantine is not what an incoming first-year wants to experience at college, Kramarsky made the best of it. “My roommate and I did a lot of yoga and some art, and once classes started, it was super helpful in making time move faster. I think the most important thing was really just taking it day by day and remembering how much there is to look forward to.”
The students in South and Mathias are just beginning to experience the same thing that Loomis residents did just a few weeks ago. Kelby Kuo ’23 and Josie Morales ’23 are staying in South Hall during the quarantine period.
“Being in our rooms is extremely difficult,” Kuo said. “Class keeps me busy, but all the unknowns presented by the virus and the school is irritating.”
Morales said she was having the same feelings. “It’s definitely hard to be in my room all day; [I am] wishing I had a roomie right about now and to only get one hour outside has been very tough. Overall, I’m just trying to keep busy, but it’s been a struggle to stay motivated for school.”
With the possibility of continuous dorm shutdowns and increasing virus transmission on campus, administrators had to quickly pivot on plans for an in-person semester. On the morning of Sept. 1, members of the CC community received a message from Robert G. Moore and Mike Edmonds about moving to remote learning for the remainder of the semester, as well as sending the majority of those on campus back home.
The school did put effort into having a “normal” semester for its students (or as normal as they could make it) and was prepared for classes to move into hybrid and flex methods if the opportunity still presented itself.
“I can’t stress enough how much energy and care that the women and men across this campus have put into making sure we can provide an experience that is as safe as possible,” Young said. “Facilities teams [are] helping with air handling, social distancing of classrooms, signs, and sanitation efforts. They are the unsung heroes.”
There are also students who are working as contact tracers in order to keep the virus as contained as possible.
Tayla Wheeler ’21 is one of the student contact tracers. Her daily tasks consisted of checking in with students, making requests for them, and monitoring their symptoms. “With only Loomis being in quarantine, I had 10 students that I was a resource for,” Wheeler explained. “If they have any needs or questions, or even just want someone to talk to, we are there for them any time of the day. We do official ‘check ins’ every three days, where we go through a list of questions that analyzes each student’s mental, physical, and psychological well-being.”
Now that the other two dorms are under quarantine, Wheeler says that each contact tracer has responsibility for an entire hallway, and will be doing regular Zoom check-ins.
As tirelessly as these team members have worked to make campus a safe environment to live, the school is still unable to “offer a quality residential experience to our students under these circumstances,” as stated in the Sept. 1 email.
Rochelle Dickey is in a senior leadership role in the Presidents’ cabinet and oversees the Student Life Division. She has been one of the administrators communicating decisions with students regarding the coronavirus on campus.
“My role is to serve students, be a resource for them, and connect them with other resources on campus to make the most of their time here at CC,” she said.
Dickey is one of the administrators who is in charge of punishing students who do not follow proper social distancing and self-quarantining protocols. As cases have spread, contact tracing has shown who was following protocols and who was not.
“We are responding to potential violations of Student Community Standards & Conduct, which includes following COVID-19 or other public health emergency protocols,” Dickey said. “Our conduct policy outlines a range of responses and sanctions. Students found in violation of risk-mitigation protocols may face suspension or dismissal.”
Punishment aside, some students and staff have contracted the virus, and thus the entire campus is at risk. Returning home may not seem like the most preferable option, but in order to limit the risks to the community, this is the decision that has been made.
“The idea of students being sent home is very saddening, but I am certain that Dean Edmonds and the rest of the CC Administration holds our health and safety as a top priority,” Wheeler said.
Young simply asks this of students in the meantime: “Please adhere to the guidance and the social distancing and the CC commitment as we go forward and [I] thank you in advance for all of the forthcoming and openness to when and if you get contacted for contact tracing.”