Keene State College reported Wednesday that 42 people — nearly all of them students — were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, just before the college moved to twice-a-week testing among its student population.
The new cases, which include 40 students and two employees, were detected between Feb. 22 and Feb. 28, according to Keene State’s online coronavirus dashboard, which is updated weekly. The college had detected 14 new cases the previous week.
Keene State has now identified 102 COVID-19 cases among students and staff since Jan. 4 — already more than the 78 detected throughout the entire fall semester. The college enrolls roughly 3,200 students and has approximately 700 employees.
Keene State spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said Wednesday that the school has not made any operational changes due to the spike in infections because public health data show on-campus buildings, including residence halls and classrooms, are not the source of viral spread. Protocols that remain in effect include a mask requirement, physical distancing and regular COVID-19 testing, according to Ricaurte.
Keene State bolstered its coronavirus testing requirements earlier this week “in an effort to aggressively identify and isolate positive cases,” President Melinda Treadwell and Interim Provost Ockle Johnson announced in a letter Monday. The college now requires students to be tested twice a week to try to prevent it from moving to fully remote classes, which other schools have done when case rates rose, Ricaurte told The Sentinel in an email. (Franklin Pierce University issued a 10-day shelter-in-place order for its Rindge campus last month in response to a COVID-19 outbreak. The order expired after infection rates fell.)
Employees receive one mandatory test per week and have the option of getting a second. The college conducted 4,100 tests between Feb. 22 and Feb. 28, it reported Wednesday.
In their letter, Treadwell and Johnson called the school’s 1 percent infection rate “low” and said the positivity rate among students living on campus had increased 0.27 percent over the previous week — an indication, they said, that transmission is not occurring on campus. They said the virus appears to be spreading among people in smaller off-campus houses, and the infection rate among students living off campus was 3.4 percent over the previous week.
Ricaurte said Keene State is prepared to implement more restrictive measures, if necessary, noting that the college is following a risk mitigation plan that bases operational decisions on viral spread and health-facility availability, among other factors.
“We are in regular, close contact with City partners and landlords about cases at Keene State,” she said in her email. “We also continue to frequently talk with Cheshire Medical Center to share information and to receive guidance.”