Lafayette experiences first major COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the semester

Lafayette has seen its total cases nearly double over the last couple weeks, marking the school’s first major outbreak since it was reopened in August. A total of 15 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since October 14, including seven positive cases on October 17, the highest single-day total of the semester so far.

Prior to this outbreak, only eight people, including staff, tested positive since the reopening of the school, and only four since the initial testing stage. This outbreak marks the first time that multiple people have tested positive on the same day since the first day of initial testing.

In an email to the on-campus community this Monday, Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio noted the presence of off-campus parties over the weekend following the initial outbreak.

“Some, particularly a few in private off-campus residences…have not been as diligent and we are now seeing the consequences of careless and irresponsible behavior,” she wrote. “If your objective is to party, it would be best for you to go home because your behavior is negatively impacting so many people around you.”

On Wednesday, Diorio sent out a letter to all Greek Life chapter presidents regarding the suspension of social, recruitment and new member activities. She noted in the letter allegations that fraternities have been “hosting events…and not following physical distancing guidelines.” At the time of writing, no conduct charges have been put in place.

Director of Health Services Jeffrey Goldstein said that the students who have tested positive are generally doing well.

“All the students, with very few exceptions, have been asymptomatic and the ones that have been symptomatic have had very mild symptoms,” he said.

Although the cases have not been serious symptomatically, Goldstein warned that students can be “vehicles for the more vulnerable” and that it is important for everyone to think about “how one’s individual behavior impacts not only our collective health on campus but also responsible for folks off campus.” 

This outbreak comes at a time where Lafayette announced that for the spring semester, any student who would like to come back to campus would be able to. The college expects 90 percent of students to come return to campus, which would mean a population of around 2,400 students. For some students with pre-existing health concerns, this is cause for worry about testing protocols in the spring.

“I feel like the school itself hasn’t been very transparent about where it originated from, or the repercussions people are facing that were involved,” Kaitlin Ahern ’23, said. “It’s people’s lives potentially, there are so many students who could seriously be impacted by people going out and partying while COVID is going on, and it’s the school’s responsibility to make that a big deal and to make sure every student is aware that if they violate these regulations, that there will be repercussions.”

While testing can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Goldstein warned that “testing alone cannot prevent disease. Behavior prevents disease.” In order for this semester to be carried out successfully and next semester to be outbreak free, he said it will require “a collective buy-in.”

Everyone needs to do their part and take the necessary precautions and abide by the protocols, such as “wearing face coverings, washing their hands frequently…social distancing, testing, identifying who has COVID, isolating in quarantine,” Goldstein said. He also recommended that Lafayette students keep groups to a maximum of five people and to avoid bars, restaurants and other crowded places.

Goldstein said that he believes that returning students to campus can be done safely despite the current outbreak. He thinks that other comparable colleges to Lafayette “have had exceptionally good experiences having full density,” and that Lafayette can do it similarly. He emphasized that it ultimately comes down to every individual’s behavior.

“I think if we were to give ourselves a grade as a campus, I would give us a B minus, C plus,” Goldstein said. “[A] passing grade, we can do a lot better.”

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