By Samantha Hilyer
On April 29, the normally buzzing campus of Saint Vincent College ground to a halt. President Fr. Paul Taylor, O.S.B., sent an email to the Saint Vincent community in which he detailed the enactment of a shelter-in-place mandate which would extend from 3 p.m. on April 29 through at least May 4.
COVID-19 cases on campus increased suddenly with 14 new cases among students confirmed within 24 hours before the mandate was issued. PCR testing of students revealed that one of the more contagious variants of COVID-19 were apparent among the student cases, according to an email sent from Dr. John Smetanka, vice president of Academic Affairs and academic dean. (The email was sent to the “Bearcat Connection” list, which does not include current students.) Contact tracing also revealed several areas of COVID-19 transmission. Because of these concentrated areas of new cases, thorough COVID-19 testing will commence in those areas along with a representative amount of testing in other areas of campus as well. Fully vaccinated students are exempt from testing and quarantine after being off campus.
The results of these tests will inform the decision as to whether the shelter-in-place mandate will continue and, if so, how long the mandate will extend.
While sheltering in place, students are permitted to pick up their meals from the cafeteria at scheduled times. Students are also permitted to walk outside individually for exercise but are not permitted to gather with friends in any way. All social events and gatherings on campus during this time have been cancelled or postponed, and only essential travel is allowed, though fully vaccinated students are permitted to work.
On April 30, six new cases were confirmed amongst students and five were under investigation. There were 39 students with active COVID cases on campus. Thirty-four of those cases were confirmed within the week leading up to the shelter-in-place order.
Students who have already had COVID-19 or who have been fully vaccinated, though exempt from testing and permitted to attend work-studies, must otherwise follow all the rules indicated in the shelter-in-place mandate. Students with clinicals, student-teaching and internships are obliged to confer with their supervising faculty, according to an FAQ sheet sent to all students on April 30. According to an email obtained by The Review dated April 29, the education department is currently permitting student teaching to continue, regardless of vaccination status.
If mitigation attempts are successful and positive cases level, in-person events, such as commencement, may return.
While the current outbreak represents a rapid rise in cases, case numbers on campus have been higher than they were last semester for some time.
An increased state police presence near the Saint Vincent campus over the past several days is not related to the shelter-in-place order. Instead, it stems from the search for a possibly ill or endangered 72-year-old male, according to reporting by WTAE Pittsburgh and the message broadcast via the college’s Omnilert emergency communication system.