There are 76 active cases of COVID-19 on campus, up from 20 positive cases last week, the most Hillsdale has seen since returning to school in August. As of Wednesday morning, 179 individuals are in contact isolation, 38 of whom are exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms as they await test results.
As of Wednesday, Chief Administrative Officer Rich Péwé said, there has been no change in the college’s COVID-19 policies. If cases continue to rise, the administration may revisit guidelines, he said.
This semester, 123 students have tested positive for the virus and 47 of these cases have resolved, meaning that students have returned to their classes and other activities. Two weeks ago, there were two active cases of COVID-19 on campus and 43 students were in contact isolation.
No Hillsdale student has been hospitalized as a result of the virus, the college reported. The majority who contract the virus report only mild symptoms.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience and are grateful to all our students, faculty, and staff who are working to keep the campus healthy and thriving,” said Dean of Men Aaron Petersen.
The rise in COVID-19 cases corresponds to state and national trends. On Tuesday, Michigan announced 6,473 new cases, a state record for a single day. Cases in the United States have topped more than 100,000 per day for the last week, and total U.S. cases since the start of the pandemic now have passed 10 million.
Since the beginning of November, Hillsdale County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency. In the last 11 days, the county has confirmed more than 231 new active cases in the community. While some of those cases include Hillsdale College students, in the first 11 days of October, the county had only 34 new active cases.
The recent outbreak, Petersen said, reflects the spike of COVID-19 cases in the community.
“As we all know, this virus ebbs and flows,” Petersen said. “What we are seeing on-campus is consistent with what is happening in our community right now. We are watching it closely and responding.”
Péwé said contact tracing has been effective in reducing community spread, but that the widespread nature of the virus makes it challenging to pinpoint where the outbreak originated.
“In the last week it has been challenging to pin it down, specifically,” Péwé said. “However, the leading cause seems to be off-campus social gatherings and the mingling of isolated students.”
Although this week’s is the biggest outbreak the college has seen this semester, Péwé said the college is ready to adapt as necessary.
“We have developed many levels of contingencies if necessary,” Péwé said. “For example, activities have been adjusted or postponed throughout the semester depending on the level of cases.”
One of those activities was this week’s Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar. The lecture series, which is open to campus, the public, and college guests, operated under limited capacity and gave students the option to attend lectures virtually.
Matt Bell, director of programs for external affairs, said although the CCA operated under limitations, the limitations had less to do with recent outbreaks than new orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“Due to recent mandates issued by the governor’s department of HHS, the number of outside guests allowed to attend the CCA was severely restricted, with most watching lectures online,” Bell said. “Students enrolled in the CCA for credit were able to view lectures in person.”
Although limited capacity was due to MDHHS guidelines, Bell said accommodations were made for students who were in quarantine and unable to attend the CCA in person.
“A number of enrolled students were quarantined and were given attendance waivers for the lectures they missed,” Bell said. “All of the lectures will be available online at cca.hillsdale.edu for students and friends of the college to view.”
Along with adjustments to the CCA, the college has created multiple housing options for students in contact isolation. Upon testing positive for the virus, or when contact traced, students may return home or stay on campus, where they are provided with housing and meals. Students may only return home if they have a vehicle on campus and if they live close enough to drive.
The college uses many on and off-campus locations to house students. The Townhouses, Park Place Apartments, Michindoh Conference Center, and the Dow Hotel and Conference Center are just a few locations isolated students can occupy. Students also have the option to stay in their off-campus housing, provided none of their housemates will be exposed to the virus.
Despite the high volume of students in isolation, Péwé said the college has not reached capacity for isolation locations, but that “senior staff has been considering strategies to safely isolate more students effectively,” in case another outbreak ensues.
“We are grateful for the support and partnership of The Michindoh Conference Center who has been a big ally to the college, helping us to house and feed our students who are in isolation,” Petersen said.
Aaron Tracey, director of hospitality operations for the Dow Hotel and Rockwell Lake Lodge, said that the hotel has been accommodating the needs of students in isolation.
“The Dow Hotel has always been a backup facility to isolate students. Camp Michindoh has been the designated facility, however the hotel works well as we have 36 individual rooms with their own air control,” Tracey said in an email. “This has been a recent need, so we are doing all we can. The students are comfortable in a modern hotel room, and the college is easily able to take care of their needs here.”
Additionally, Tracey said, the hotel rarely experiences vacancies as is, so student occupation of the hotel hasn’t greatly interfered with out-of-town guest bookings.
“There are never enough rooms in the hotel to accommodate all of Hillsdale’s guests. That’s not a new issue; we typically have several rooms on the waitlist,” Tracey said. “That said, we are entering our slow season at the hotel, so we haven’t seen too much of an impact with turning away guests. Our first priority has always been to serve the college’s needs first. That looks a little different this week.”
Director of Health and Wellness Brock Lutz said that the administration will stick to its original plan: college as normal.
“The college continues to follow its plan which includes in-person classes after Thanksgiving,” Lutz said.