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Probable case of on-campus COVID transmission

By Samantha Hilyer

Students walk to their classes while following the guideline to wear masks in order to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. (Source: SVC Flickr)

On Sept. 16, Dr. John Smetanka, vice president of Academic Affairs and academic dean, sent the Saint Vincent community an email that reminded students of COVID-19 guidelines and stated that “to date, we are aware of no transmission on campus.” However, that message is unlikely to hold true now as student COVID-19 cases rose from the initial two positive cases to eight positive cases and eight cases currently under investigation as of Oct. 9.

The rise in numbers is not surprising to Smetanka because Westmoreland County COVID-19 cases have been spiking recently.

“We know that our student teachers, our students who work off campus, and our commuting population are vulnerable,” Smetanka said.

The original two cases of COVID-19 were caught within the first week of the semester, explained Smetanka, and those cases are believed to have been contracted before the students arrived on campus. There was no known spread of the virus from those original cases. Then there was a four-to-five-week period during which there were no new COVID-19 cases. And although many students were under investigation at that time, none had tested positive.

“We were really pleased with the way that the isolation and quarantining plan went, and everything seemed to be going well,” Smetanka said.

Then, in transmissions that were believed to originate off campus, a few students tested positive for COVID-19. The week after those cases were confirmed, around three more students tested positive as well.

“We think that it is likely that there was a transmission on campus, but what that means is that we need to be more diligent and more vigilant,” Smetanka said.

He explained that while the probability of future transmissions on campus cannot be eliminated, wearing masks, remaining socially distant and minimizing long term contact with other people can help to mitigate transmissions.

However, according to Smetanka, the number of positive cases is still low, and there is a silver lining.

“The students who are testing positive are recovering quickly and the people in quarantine are getting their test results quickly—within two to three days,” Smetanka said.

And any students who have tested positive have yet to require hospitalization due to COVID-19.

“Nonetheless, we still want to make sure that we are not spreading it because this disease is unpredictable and it is very serious and we have to respect it,” Smetanka said.


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