No new cases found after one student and one employee test positive in September: Cases in Pennsylvania still on the rise

Both the student and the employee who tested positive for the coronavirus in late September have fully recovered and exited isolation, according to director of health services Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein.

The positive test results brought the fall semester case count to eight. During the first week of having students on campus in August, five students and one employee tested positive for the virus.  

According to Goldstein, the two recent cases were unrelated. The employee tested positive on September 19 and the student tested positive on September 23 as can be seen on the Lafayette COVID-19 Dashboard

There were five students and two employees in self-quarantine for the past week, but none of them tested positive while in self-quarantine. There is still one student in self-quarantine because of the close contact they had with someone who tested positive. 

So far there is no evidence of on-campus spread resulting from the two individuals who tested positive, as Lafayette continues to keep case numbers low this fall. 

Annette Diorio, vice president for campus life, emphasized how happy she was with how these cases were handled and that no transmission occurred. She attributed this to the contact tracing infrastructure that the college has in place.

“[There are] about 60 trained contact tracers on campus who have been through state-approved training to do contact tracing,” Diorio said. “So when we find that we have a positive result, either in surveillance testing or in our check-in testing, the contact tracers get in touch with the person who has had the positive result, they do a whole interview with them to try to figure out who they may have been in contact with, and then they start contacting those folks and telling them what they need to do.”

So far this contact tracing has prevented an outbreak on campus. However, there is still some concern about how rising COVID-19 numbers in nearby communities could affect the college in the coming weeks.

According to the New York Times, over the past two weeks, Pennsylvania has seen a 46 percent increase in COVID-19 cases. Northampton County’s daily new case numbers remain low at 8.5 per 100,000, but they are on an upward trajectory.

“People are relaxing their social distancing a little bit. People are beginning to go to restaurants and malls again, and that natural resocialization of society will result in a greater number of cases,” Goldstein said. “We do know that COVID spreads more widely indoors than it does outdoors, and as the weather gets colder people congregate indoors rather than outdoors. That will also lead to a greater number of cases.”

Both of these factors are part of the college’s considerations as it looks towards the possibility of bringing more students to campus for the spring semester. In an email sent last week, President Alison Byerly said this decision would come on October 20. 

She elaborated that the college is “currently exploring three spring scenarios: one that mirrors the current semester, one that includes an expanded student population on campus, and one that allows all students who wish to be on campus to return.”

Diorio emphasized that “there is a lot more that is unexplained about this disease, but as [the administration] thinks about the future we of course know that students want to be on campus and we want our students on campus.”

However, Goldstein noted that a return to campus will require a substantial student commitment. 

“I would send out a big ‘thank you’ to our community, and more specifically, the students. Because unless there’s a broad buy-in by the students for using mitigating behaviors that will lead to these positive outcomes, you could do all the testing in the world and the outcome will be negative,” Goldstein said.

He added that, “it’s time for everyone to lock arms. The only way that we’ll have a positive outcome is if people behave in those ways that the college has discussed.”

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