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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Campus COVID-19 positivity rate low, action level placed at Level 2: Medium

Campus life at Carleton this term looks drastically different than in past years. The majority of classes and extracurricular meetings occur online, and walking through campus entails passing through a sea of masks and Green-To-Go containers. Dining halls and study spaces have strict occupancy limits, and—of course— no large gatherings are permitted. Students who have returned to Carleton signed a covenant prior to arriving on campus indicating that they would adhere to these, among other, new regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These new precautions have not been practiced in vain. 

Upon arriving on campus, students were required to receive two rounds of COVID-19 tests: one on the day of their arrival and another one seven days later. On Tuesday, September 15, Dean Livingston sent an email to the student body reporting a 0.1% positivity rate after the first round of testing. According to the email and Carleton’s COVID-19 dashboard, 1,511 tests were conducted between September 4 and September 10 as students returned to campus and received their first test. Only two students tested positive in this round. The close contacts of these students—a total of four individuals—were put into quarantine, along with “a few students who have experienced symptoms,” the email said.

According to the dashboard and a second email sent by Livingston on Thursday, September 22, a total of 1,452 tests were conducted as students received their second COVID-19 test between September 11 and 17. In this round of testing, there were four positive cases, a positivity rate of 0.3%. The close contacts of the positive students—a total of twelve individuals—were quarantined, along with any students on campus reporting symptoms.

After receiving the results of the two baseline tests, the College began its weekly Fall Term surveillance testing. Each week, three hundred randomly selected students are notified on Tuesday and tested on Friday. In a September 30 email, Livingston noted that participation in surveillance testing was lower than expected during the first week of the program, and reminded students that they are required to report for testing if selected.

During the first week of surveillance testing, between September 20 and 26, a total of 324 tests were conducted, although not all of these were part of the surveillance program. Only one individual tested positive, the dashboard reports, and eight close contacts were put in quarantine. The dashboard notes that Carleton’s isolation and quarantine facilities were at 34% capacity at the end of that week.

In her September 30 email, Livingston announced that the COVID-19 Core Team had made its first designation of the College’s COVID-19 action level, placing Carleton at Level 2: Medium. Livingston noted that the thresholds to achieve a Level 1 designation are stringent, and some of the campus data—such as having a 14-day infection rate of 0.2% and only a single positive test during the evaluated time period—do indeed point to a low level of risk. 

However, the Core Team opted for the Level 2 designation based on several additional factors, including lower than expected participation in surveillance testing, delays in notifying close contacts, a relatively large number of close contacts for the positive individual and the fact that the occupation level of isolation and quarantine spaces is above 25%. Livingston also noted that the time to receive test results was greater than 24 hours and that the 14-day Rice County infection rate is above 10 per 10,000.

Because of the relatively low rate of positive COVID-19 cases on Carleton’s campus, many students are left wondering what will happen to them if they are required to either isolate or quarantine. 

On Saturday, September 19, Aldo Polanco ’23 was called around noon letting him know of a close contact with a positive case, he said. By three o’clock that same afternoon, Polanco was quarantined in Allen House, one of five college-owned houses across from the townhouses on Highway 19, along with a few other students who were also identified as close contacts. 

In accordance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Carleton defines a close contact as any individual who has spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive.

To Polanco, quarantining on campus has been a “pretty seamless and positive process,” thanks to Kari Scheuer, a senior administrative assistant in the Dean of Students Office who is overseeing those required to isolate and quarantine. Due to the online nature of his classes, Polanco has been able to keep up with his coursework as usual, “with the exception of having more free time to work on them,” he said. All those quarantining in Allen House alongside Polanco have also been able to interact with masks and social distancing measures enforced. 

If there is one downside though, Polanco said, it would be the meals. “We get food once a day that is supposed to last through the day after,” he described. Although this may not seem ideal, he added that “we’ve also [received] snack care packages, and even got Chipotle for dinner a couple days ago.” 

As we enter the fourth week at Carleton, continuing to respect the Covenant will be essential. 

Thus far, positive cases have remained low, perhaps because of the vigilance of everyone on campus. Staying on this path and continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing will keep campus a safe place to learn as the term evolves.

Note: this article has been updated from the version that appeared in our print edition. The updated version reports data from the newest version of Carleton’s COVID-19 dashboard released on Wednesday, September 30, as well as information from an email sent that same day. The new dashboard includes additional data points and also breaks down test results into different weekly time windows compared to the previous dashboard.

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