No Hillsdale College students have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to campus last month and attending in-person classes, the college reported Wednesday evening. One student is currently in quarantine, awaiting test results.
“In every case that we’ve tested students, it’s come back negative, but that doesn’t mean we don’t expect cases,” said Chief Administrative Officer Rich Péwé, who has overseen the college’s response to the coronavirus. “We’ve done a great job with contact tracing and getting people tested. We’ve been fortunate.”
On Monday, the college announced in an email that it would halt mask requirements in outdoor settings, as well as daily temperature checks and health screenings. Masks are still required in indoor public spaces, physical distancing is encouraged, and students must report symptoms of sickness.
Péwé said the college believes there may have been positive cases among students unconfirmed by testing, but that the college does not know of any. He said the college expects cases and is well-prepared to deal with them.
“There have been a few potential cases,” Péwé said. “But anytime there’s a potential case— let’s say a student reports they’re asymptomatic — we get them checked out and tested. Usually they’re in quarantine until we get the results back or the symptoms go away.”
Although the school will continue to exercise diligence in following COVID-19 procedures, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said that the changes are a step in the right direction.
“We should take the necessary precautions, but we should also live as normally as possible. There is good evidence that young, healthy people get little advantage wearing a mask out of doors,” Arnn said in an email. “We did it for two weeks, I confess, partly to make the point that we all need to be careful, and partly for whatever preventative benefit it may have in our transition back to campus.”
The college’s new guidelines are focused on students’ ability to self-govern, Péwé said. Hillsdale’s policies have lined up with its teachings — students learn about self-governance, and now it’s on them to practice it.
“We’re making sure that we keep the people who are most vulnerable as safe as possible,” Péwé said. “But students govern themselves in this case. And they got off to a really good start. The students did a great job.”
McIntyre Residence Head Resident Assistant Lily Van Wingerden has been conducting health checks on freshmen women for the last two weeks. According to Van Wingerden, the students have responded well to the task of self-governance and she has no doubt in their ability to continue doing so.
“I think health checks were important in the first two weeks for monitoring everyone as they came back, but I think Hillsdale students are responsible,” Van Wingerden said. “I have faith that our girls are going to be responsible and stay home when they’re sick.”
The Ambler Health and Wellness Center has issued guidelines on what steps students should take should they fall ill. Should students show symptoms, they should follow the steps on the Hillsdale GO app under “coronavirus questionnaire” and call the health center, where nurses will be on call 24/7. From there, the deans’ offices and health center staff will help the student arrange logistics.
When sophomore Cece Moran developed symptoms — a sore throat and runny nose — she alerted the health center. Nurses told Moran to pack an overnight bag to quarantine in the townhouses, where she was required to stay while she awaited test results.
“My symptoms started on Thursday,” Moran said. “I woke up Friday and my mom said I should get tested just in case. I called the health center and I didn’t have a fever, but they scheduled me for a COVID test at the hospital.”
After being transported to the Hillsdale Hospital in a school-owned vehicle, Moran took a swab test and went to the townhouses to quarantine. She was released three days later when her test came back negative.
“The health center called me and said ‘good news, you tested negative,’” Moran said. “Security came and got me and I was back home by dinnertime.”
The college also said Monday that the Roche Sports Complex would be open to students starting Sept. 9. This update comes a few days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a statement allowing pools and gyms to reopen in a limited capacity. Patrons will be required to wear masks while exercising, the gym will be open for reduced hours, and capacity will be limited in each exercise area until further notice.
The college will continue to offer virtual learning opportunities, ensuring that students in quarantine don’t miss class. Professors have the option of requiring masks in class, but according to Arnn, most have been receptive to the changes.
“I am advised that most of the faculty members are comfortable with the measures we have taken, including the recent slight relaxation,” Arnn wrote. “It is important to protect anyone who is vulnerable to the virus, even anyone nervous about it.”