News

College Implements New Restrictions In Response to Rising COVID Numbers

Hui Li ‘21

Co-Chief Graphic Designer

On Friday, April 9, the College of the Holy Cross announced a set of new restrictions for students to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the community, effective 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 9 until Wednesday, April 14, when the College will re-evaluate campus conditions and update the community about whether these restrictions will be lifted or extended. College staff were also on campus during the weekend to make sure students were complying with the school’s universal mask policy and social distancing protocols. 

According to the Friday, April 9 message sent from the Coronavirus Updates email account, there were 40 new positive cases in the student body and over 130 people moved into either isolation or quarantine, space for which in the Holiday Inn Express has dropped to below 50%. An update on Sunday, April 11 stated that there were 8 more positive cases in the community, according to the testing results on Friday.

The restrictions are as follows:

1.) Students are not allowed to have gatherings of any sort (indoors or outdoors) with people who are not their roommates.

2.) All in-person classes and any other meetings originally scheduled to be in person will be held remotely.

3.) The Joanne-Chouinard Luth Recreation and Wellness Center, also known as “The Jo,” will be closed except for COVID testing on Monday, April 12 and Tuesday, April 13.

4.) The college’s libraries are closed for in-person visits. According to the Holy Cross Libraries’ social media pages, electronic delivery of materials and access to online support will still be available.

5.) The Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex will be closed, and there will be no athletic games, competitions, or practices.

6.) All campus study and social spaces are closed.

7.) There will be no in-person dining on campus. All meals are to be picked up in a grab-and-go format, and the D’Agostino Café in Haberlin Hall will be closed.

8.) There will be no daily masses or opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Monday or Tuesday.

9.) Fourth-year students who have signed up to have their senior portraits taken in the week of April 12 will have their appointments postponed until May.

Students who are living off-campus will not have access to campus facilities unless they are getting COVID tests, visiting Health Services, or picking up food from Kimball Hall.

All students are required to get a COVID test on either Monday or Tuesday. The only students who are exempt from this mandatory testing are those who are within their 90-day window of being COVID-recovered.

According to the frequently asked questions added to the College’s COVID-19 Response and Reopening Website on April 11, students who are either COVID-recovered or vaccinated are not exempt from the restrictions. Students are allowed to leave to purchase groceries and other essential items, but, according to the frequently asked questions page, students who share rides to go off-campus must wear masks and open the car windows, and if one the students tests positive, any others in the car will be close contacts.

The April 9 message stated that recent contact-tracing data suggest that a majority of cases came from outdoor gatherings while a smaller number came from students who traveled away from campus for Easter break. “To be clear, any student gatherings – inside or out, on-campus or off – will lead to serious consequences,” reads a line in the email.

The staff members who wrote the April 9 correspondence also write that they noticed students “in general letting their guards down: gathering in larger numbers, not wearing masks, [and] staying too close together.” According to the Student Compliance section of the College’s COVID-19 Response and Reopening Website, these are all failures to comply with the school’s COVID safety policies and may result in institutional responses like sanctions.

Graphic design by Hui Li ’21

The writers of the April 9 email also believe that they are “seeing the effects of the more-contagious COVID variants.” The COVID Core Team wrote in its April 11 correspondence that they are “working with the Massachusetts Department of Health to arrange for sequencing of our positive samples.” It is currently unknown whether the more infectious strains of the coronavirus caused the COVID cases on campus, but according to a statement from David Shettler, Director of COVID Response Operations, on March 5 (read The Spire’s article on Shettler’s message to the community in the beginning of March here), the highly-contagious variant initially found in the United Kingdom has been found on other college campuses in Massachusetts.

The College also consulted its own medical experts and the Worcester Division of Public Health to finalize and implement the new safety measures. “[W]e believe these measures are necessary to slow the spread of cases we’ve seen [prior to April 9]. The College and our public health are looking to see our daily case numbers decline, and to see our daily intake into the [Holiday Inn Express] decline sufficiently enough to be at sustainable levels. Once we see sustainable trends take hold, we plan to ease these restrictions,” wrote the COVID Core Team.

One of the issues that Elizabeth Drexler-Hines, Director of Student Wellness Education and one of the staff leaders of the Student Health Ambassadors, has noticed on campus is that students who test positive are not always honest to contract tracers about whom they were with. To clarify the College’s protocols with students who test positive for COVID and for students who are close contacts of confirmed cases, she wrote, “[The Office of Student] Conduct will never be contacted for anyone who gets COVID or is identified as a close contact. That’s [confidential] medical information.”

While a student’s status as a positive case or a close contact is kept confidential, not being honest with contact tracers may result in the Office of Student Conduct getting involved. “But if someone is discovered to not be truthful about their close contacts (we have had a few cases of this), they may be referred to Conduct,” stated Drexler-Hines. She added, “Contact tracing is the best public health strategy we have to try and squash potential clusters and outbreaks early. But [contact tracers] need as much information about [your] close contacts as possible. When names are not given, that increases the chance that someone is running around COVID and spreading it [to others], not knowing that they’re doing it.”

Michele Murray, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, wrote to The Spire, “We are taking the steps necessary to get our positives under control. We’re taking the precautions we need to take in order to slow the spread and help us get to the end of the semester, including an in-person commencement ceremony for [the Class of 2021].”

The April 9 email confirms this, stating, “We cannot emphasize this enough: these last few weeks are going to be crucial to the success of the entire semester. We hope that, with this pause, we can limit the spread of the virus. Our ability to lift some of these restrictions, move back towards more normal operations, and continue with the activities planned for April and May will depend on how well we do that.”

Besides adhering to the new restrictions themselves, students can also hold each other accountable to bring the College’s COVID figures to more manageable and safe levels. “One of the most important things at the moment is something [students] can help with: being vigilant about reminding [your peers] to follow the restrictions that are in place. Masks, distancing, – including when being outside, completing the mandatory testing on Monday or Tuesday,” wrote Dean Murray.

Read the April 9 Message and find answers to frequently asked questions about the new restrictions at https://www.holycross.edu/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-information/communications/2021-04-09-important.Find information about getting the vaccine around Holy Cross at https://www.holycross.edu/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-information/health-and-safety/student-vaccine-information

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