COVID-19 Outbreak at E&H: Where to Go Next?

The spike in positive COVID-19 cases can be seen in this graph from Emory & Henry's COVID-19 dashboard.

Katie Bolling

The spike in positive COVID-19 cases can be seen in this graph from Emory & Henry’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Katie Bolling, Writer

On Oct. 23 Emory & Henry College announced that out of the 616 students and faculty members that underwent mandatory testing for COVID-19, 34 were positive for the virus. 

As of Friday, Oct. 30 the college has 36 active cases.

With these numbers, the college’s rate of diagnosed cases per 100,000 people is 5,844. Dr. Karen Shelton, Director of the Mount Rogers Health District, explained how these numbers compare to surrounding areas.

For Washington County, the rate of all diagnosed cases per 100,000 people is currently 1,856,” Dr. Shelton explained. “When we look at the numbers we try to put them in the context of other numbers for comparison. We know from college outbreaks across the state that the proportion of students affected in an outbreak can be much higher than the surrounding community based on congregate housing (more people living in close quarters) and social gatherings.”

Shelton also understands that this uptick in cases can cause people in the community to become anxious.

Emory & Henry College is in an outbreak, and I am sure it is very concerning to the students and staff and community,” she said.

Dr. Tracy Lauder, Department Chair of Mass Communications at E&H, has experienced these feelings first-hand since learning about the increase in active cases.

“I am certainly concerned about my health and safety, as well as that of my staff and faculty colleagues—and our students,” she elaborated. 

Jayden Crabtree, a Junior at E&H, also expressed concern when it comes to her life as a student at the college.

“I am kind of worried about class next semester,” Crabtree said, “A lot of my classes function better in person because I am an Education Major.”

Many classes at the college are currently remote, which has created its own set of issues for students and faculty, but Dr. Lauder appreciates the option to work from home, especially with case numbers rising.

“While challenging and not ideal, I do appreciate the option the college has given me for teaching my classes remotely—which has worked out well since most of my students have been taking classes remotely from off-campus locations anyway,” Dr. Lauder said.

Dr. Lauder also feels that following the COVID-19 regulations is imperative in keeping an outbreak like this from occurring again.

“Certainly everyone at the college needs to comply with the regulations in our COVID safety plan in order to stop the spread of the disease,” she said. “ I hope that all in our community will do their part in keeping this small outbreak under control.”

Jayden Crabtree agreed, stating, “I think we should limit campus to essential students and make sure everyone is following guidelines at all times.”

Dr. Shelton echoed these sentiments, and also added that members of the E&H community need to stay mindful of the activities they are engaging in off campus as well.

“What we see most commonly both on campus and in the community is that people are good at maintaining the guidelines at work or in school, but the evenings and weekends people will gather and socialize,” Dr. Shelton informed. “The highest risks we have found for transmission of disease are living in the same house, riding in a car together, eating meals together, and going to bars.” 

Additionally, COVID-19 testing is imperative to prevent another outbreak; it was the only way the current outbreak was discovered. 

Dr Lauder is in favor of more testing on campus in general.

“It would be nice if we could test more frequently, especially when large groups of students return to campus, but I don’t know if that is an option for us,” she said.

Dr. Shelton added that testing and contact tracing is crucial in keeping the virus from spreading. 

“Testing is important, and getting the test result as fast as possible is best – that way people can realize they have COVID-19 quicker and take measures to isolate faster,” she detailed. “Their contacts can be traced before they become sick themselves and if they are in quarantine when their symptoms start, another area of the community has been protected.”

While social distancing and other regulations seem very simple on paper, Dr. Shelton recognizes that they are difficult for everyone.

“Gathering and socializing is in our human nature,” she noted. 

In terms of solutions, Shelton reiterated the importance of common safety measures, and she urged community members to work together.

“Wear masks and stay 6 feet apart, limit the people you share meals with, and wash your hands often!” she informed. “Choose your circle of friends and protect each other … If you don’t feel well, stay home.”

The Whitetopper reached out to Emory & Henry’s COVID-19 Task Force, but did not receive answers before the publication deadline.

To see the college’s current and past COVID-19 case numbers, along with other information, please visit E&H’s COVID-19 Dashboard at COVID-19 Dashboard • E&H: Strong and Safe Together • Emory & Henry.