On Monday, Keene State College reported its highest number of new COVID cases so far this academic year, according to the institution’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Last week, the college confirmed 28 new cases of the disease, bringing the total active cases to 32 as of Sunday. Of those, 28 are students and four are staff, the dashboard indicates. Previously, this school year’s highest number of new cases in a week was 27 and was reported Nov. 8.
The recent uptick didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, according to Mary Beth “MB” Lufkin, vice president for enrollment and student engagement.
“We anticipated an increase in cases of COVID given the current rate of transmission in our region,” she said in an email Monday evening.
Some of the cases were identified through the college’s weekly surveillance testing, while others were discovered through testing by outside agencies. Last week’s confirmed cases include students who tested positive over Thanksgiving break and have not returned to campus, Lufkin said, as well as cases linked to family members of elementary and high-school students.
“KSC does not [intend] to change operations due to one week of results,” Lufkin said. “We need to be able to identify whether this is a trend or a temporary spike in cases.” However, the college did limit the number of spectators at an athletic competition over the weekend, she added. Students, staff and faculty were allowed into a basketball double-header Saturday afternoon at Spaulding Gymnasium, but fans from the general public were turned away.
The recent numbers aren’t the highest the college has seen over the course of the pandemic, Lufkin said. This past spring, cases identified at the college comprised about 53 percent of the city’s COVID-19 cases, while this fall that figure is only about 18 percent, according to Lufkin.
The semester ends Dec. 17, and the college plans to continue in-person instruction and maintain its current health protocols, which include masking, weekly testing and limited gatherings.
“We will continue to monitor data over the next two weeks and adjust operational responses as appropriate,” she said.
In line with a state law established earlier this year, the college did not require students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, Keene State — which has about 3,100 students and 630 staff — is encouraging students and staff to get inoculated and share proof of vaccination to a confidential online portal, which helps the college establish effective health and safety protocols, according to its website.
As of Monday, 74 percent of students and 86 percent of employees had reported being inoculated for an overall vaccination rate of 78 percent, according to Lufkin.