CEDARVILLE, Ohio — Cedarville University leaders say the Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading across campus, prompting the need to put new protocols in place.
Students moved in the weekend of Aug. 6, and classes started Aug. 11. There were no COVID-19 protocols in place – no vaccine requirement, no mask mandate.
“Our initiative was to empower the students to make sound decisions that’s best for their health and their best interests,” said Mark Weinstein, Cedarville’s executive director of public affairs. “We operated as normal, just like any school would. There really weren’t strong guidelines other than just be mindful, be careful, and enjoy your college life in terms of the classroom and learning from professors.”
That return to campus also initially included students attending chapel at full capacity in a space that can hold around 3,500 people, nearly the size of the entire student population.
“Honestly, when I came in the beginning, it’s like 4,000 kids in one place, no mask, in a chapel, I was like, wow, these cases are obviously going to go higher, but now I feel like, with the masks coming back, I feel kinda comfortable with cases maybe going down,” said freshman Elijah Bolleddu, who also pointed out that he is vaccinated.
Since students returned, cases have spiked. At last check, 281 students had tested positive, more than 7% of the population. And that figure does not include faculty or staff.
“I think there was an element of people being mindful, maybe not to the degree that maybe we should have, but it wasn’t just carefree here,” Weinstein said. “We were mindful of what we’re involved with and taking precautions, but the Delta variant is very strong, and, as we said, it’s gone through Ohio very strongly, and we are just dealing with it now.”
That means instituting a policy of requiring masks indoors and going to a flexible format for classes starting Friday. That means students can choose to take their classes online.
The chapel is also on pause until at least Sept. 7.
Meanwhile, the isolation space previously set up on campus is full, so a second space was outfitted with beds and a computer lab to hold more students who have tested positive.
“This wave will pass, and our commitment is to be on campus, in person,” Cedarville University President Thomas White said in a video to the school community. “We believe that is the best way to do discipleship.”
10TV also checked in with a few other smaller universities to check on their case numbers.
Otterbein University, which just instituted a vaccine mandate and also has a mask policy, reports 15 positive cases since Aug. 1. Of those, only two were among the 1,000 students living on campus.
Ohio Dominican University, which requires masks indoors, reports two current positive cases among the entire campus community, including students, faculty and staff.
And Kenyon College, which has both a mask requirement and vaccine mandate, had four positive cases, made up of two students and two employees, at last check.
But leaders at Cedarville are hopeful the new protocols will be effective. They are set to remain in place until at least Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day.
“It’s easy to speculate looking back,” Weinstein said when asked whether more protocols should have been in place from the get-go. “I choose to look forward, and, as a result, I think the plan that we have in place right now is going to pay great dividends for our students. I think it’s going to help reduce the spread on campus. I’m really confident that, through our actions, we’re going to get back to a more normal way of operating here at Cedarville.”
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