Benedictine College puts additional COVID-19 precautions into effect

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Matt Conner, left, and Connor Muehler walk through the quad wearing their masks on Monday, August 31st. Photo by Liam Keating

Colleges throughout the country are dealing with the effects of COVID-19 including Benedictine College. This weekend, brand new guidelines were ushered to the students to stop the spread of COVID-19 as cases are rising among the student population.

As of last Friday, Benedictine had just over 60 active COVID cases with 90 other students in quarantine based on contact tracing. By Monday morning, the college’s website noted the active cases were down to 43. The number of cases changes daily as students are brought back to campus and others are sent to quarantine.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recorded 87 total cases for the Atchison County on Aug. 17, the same day as freshman move-in day. Since then, the number of total cases has risen to 146 which is a 59 positive test increase.

The Haverty Center, located near the large “B” and circle drive is a place for students to relax, work on homework and socialize, but many students are not following the mask rules implemented by the school according to Katherine Starr, senior.

“We look around Haverty and we see 25-30 people sitting together without masks, it’s irritating,” Starr said. “Coming in as freshman would be absolutely horrible. I feel for them, but this whole thing is bigger than us.”

Students leaving from classes exit the Ferrell Academic Center. Photo by Liam Keating.

According to fellow senior, Erin Winslow, she has been prudent by following all the rules since the beginning of school. Winslow is frustrated that not everyone is following suit and adhering to guidelines.

“It sucks because we have been working so hard to see this school open, Winslow said. “It’s hard to see that not everybody cares.”

The recent increase in active cases has caught the eye of the KDHE and according to the president of the college, Stephen Minnis, has forced Benedictine to take action.

Minnis released a video on Friday urging the students to ‘protect the flock’. The video was followed by a seven-page letter describing the new guidelines for Benedictine students via email.

“They [KDHE] have expressed concerns of the number of daily positive tests,” Minnis said. “They looked at that [number] and they combined the total positive tests and expressed concern to the point where they asked us to do certain things that were more stringent than we were actually doing.”

The KDHE is alarmed at the increase in total cases as 2.4% of the student population is infected with COVID-19. But, the KDHE has not outlined how many positive cases it would take to force Benedictine College to go fully online for the rest of the semester.

“We have asked the county and the state. They have told us they do not have a threshold. We do not have a threshold either,” Minnis said. “A lot of the things we are implementing this weekend came about because of recommendations and pressures from the county health.”

The changes that the college has made include athletic weight rooms to be closed, a mask mandate for inside and outside buildings, and the closure of eating inside the dining hall, forcing it to be a grab-and-go service.

The chairs and tables remain empty as the dining hall is closed under new guidelines. Photo by Liam Keating.

“I have really, really struggled with this [decision]. Our strength is community, faith and scholarship,” Minnis said. “I think one of our strengths and one of our biggest community builders is the dining hall. Our dining hall is more than just nourishment, it is community building, pure and simple.”

The dining hall is one of the most prominent features of campus situated at the heart of where students eat food and make memories. This will all be suspended as students are required to take meals back to their rooms or outside to remain socially distant.

Benedictine College school officials attempted to make the dining hall a safe place utilizing social distancing by removing excess tables and chairs, all to no avail.

“What we have noticed is, the number of chairs to a table is not being respected,” Minnis said. “People are bringing chairs over and you are getting your normal larger crowds around a table.”

However, Minnis does not believe that the spread of the virus comes from the classroom or even the dining hall.

“We believe that the number one way it is being passed is through living; close contact in rooms, in houses,” Minnis said.

According to Benedictine College guidelines, students who test positive are given the option to spend their quarantine at home or at a nearby hotel. If a student is believed to have been in close contact with a positively-tested person by way of contact tracing, they are subject to quarantine in their dormitory or apartment.

Dr. Edward Mulholland walks on the quad wearing a face shield on Monday, August 31st. Photo by Liam Keating

Freshman David Mannella is one of the many students who is in quarantine due to contact tracing. Mannella has not been tested nor has he shown symptoms of COVID-19. However, he must remain in his Turner Hall room because his roommate tested positive. Mannella’s roommate has since left campus and gone home.

Quarantine or isolation is the only way to halt its spreading, but it is often a dark time for many as they spend up to two weeks in one room.

“It’s lonely,” Mannella said. “I’m unproductive while waiting all day to do nothing.”

Mannella is worried he is missing out on important days as a new student to Benedictine.

“During ROC (Raven Orientation Camp) Week you meet so many people,” Mannella said. “It seems like the weeks leading after it is when people solidify friend groups and I just don’t want to miss that.”

Student Government Association President, Liliana Pokropski, has an answer to those students that may feel left out and lonely.

“We are starting a video blog and asking students in quarantine for what they need,” Pokropski said. “We are going to take their recommendations and help them with their needs. If it is out of our realm, we’re going to bring it to administration.”

Students that are feeling any symptoms to COVID-19 are being asked to avoid the St. Joesph, MO and Atchison, KS areas for testing.

“I would recommend going through our health [center],” Minnis said. “We have the ability to give a test on our campus through our health center.”

If the spread of the COVID-19 virus does not stop through these new guidelines, the KDHE may have to take matters into their own hands and force the closure of the school. But Minnis is confident that these measures will have efficient results.

“We made a commitment to stay open. We are going to do anything to stay open,” Minnis said. “It’s going to take a lot for us to send our students home and finish the semester online.”

Stay up to date on all COVID-19 stories at Benedictine College via this page. For more information on statewide cases, visit the KDHE here.