Zac VanderLey – Staff Writer
While the United States continued to record around 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths and 40,000 new cases daily, a small and rural Christian college had appeared to have proven itself different. On September 14, zero active COVID-19 cases were reported on Dordt’s campus with just four in quarantine or isolation. Yet this streak of health ended just a week later on September 21, with a documented 8 active cases and 63 students in quarantine or isolation.
“We must continue to remain vigilant about social distancing, wearing our masks, and keeping our interactions to 10-15 minutes in length,” President Hoekstra said in a press release.
As Dordt attempts to manage virus spread on campus, the surrounding Sioux County has reported a 29.2% case positivity rate as of September 17, according to the N’WEST Iowa Review. Other colleges around the country, most notably and closely Jamestown, have also seen massive breakouts often attributed to large parties without masks or social distancing.
In the midst of these high percentages and hot spots, Dordt is taking a cautious approach when dealing with symptomatic students.
“Once a student inputs a symptom through the Student Health Portal Symptom tracker, it notifies us on our end of the Health Portal,” Beth Baas, director of student health and counseling said. “They will receive a phone call asking them how they are feeling and recommending a COVID-19 test.”
Students have remained compliant to this and accepted each test, adhering to the Community Covenant signed before the resumption of classes.
Baas has been impressed, but not surprised, at the unity shown by students throughout the beginning of the school year. She believes that a love for one’s neighbor has motivated the general adherence to these guidelines.
“The bottom line is we are proud of our students,” said Robert Taylor, co-leader of the COVID-19 task force. “It is thanks to all of you that it is different here.”
Still, the possibility exists for asymptomatic and unidentified cases on campus, especially given that Dordt has adhered to CDC guidelines initially discouraging the testing of asymptomatic individuals. The testing of large bodies of students (most notably sports teams) was halted due to this advice.
As of last week, however, the CDC has walked back these protocols to now advise the testing of anyone in close contact to a positive test. Since then, students who “feel they have a compelling reason” to be tested may contact Student Health through the symptom tracker.
Once COVID-19 positive or contact traced, students face a complicated path on their return to campus from isolation or quarantine.
“Isolation is for those that are ill or infectious. And they will remain in isolation for at least 10 days. They cannot return to the Dordt community while experiencing symptoms,” Baas said.
On the other hand, quarantine is for those who are contact-traced, and they must remain in quarantine for at least 14 days from the date of contact with the positive individual. A negative test, however, is not required for either a contact-traced or positive-tested student to resume in-person classes and activities. At this time, Dordt does not recommend COVID-19 tests for contact-traced students unless they experience symptoms during the 14-day quarantine, despite CDC guidelines.
Diane Hurst, a sophomore journalism major, was placed into quarantine after being contact traced, yet she was allowed to attend classes on campus for another day before officially entering quarantine.
…“I wasn’t experiencing symptoms, so I bought an antibodies test,” Hurst said. “Dordt told me that if I tested positive for anti-bodies, I could re-enter campus.”
Upon testing positive for anti-bodies, however, Diane was not allowed to return to campus because of a change in CDC guidelines the day before. Because of this, she would have needed a positive COVID-19 test as well as a positive anti-bodies test in order to return.
Hurst quarantined on August 24th and was told she could not return to campus until September 11th. Then she was told the 10th, and then the 9th, most of the communication coming from phone calls from different individuals. Eventually, she was allowed to attend classes on September 7th, a four-day change from the original date.
“It’s honestly not Dordt’s fault. I know the rules are constantly changing, but I just wish there was more consistency for students knowing when they should come and go,” Hurst said.
Some parts of her experienced fared better.
“People from campus ministry called and prayed for me,” Hurst said.
Stephen Marques, a junior business major, also found joy in Dordt’s response.
“Dordt did a phenomenal job of supporting me and helping me out,” Marques said. “Sure, they missed it in the communications at first with a couple odd meals, but they apologized for that and blessed me with tons of snacks.”
Nationwide, schools have struggled to place effective COVID-19 containment measures on their students and faculty. But the Dordt administration is putting trust in their students.
“Statistically it is hard to be completely accurate,” Robert Taylor, co-leader of the COVID-19 task force said. “We are all taxed. And we would like to be better, but we all have the same goal: to be here on December 12th.”