Another winter, another spike: COVID-19 case counts soar as students return from break

From Harvard to the University of Washington, campuses across the U.S. launched or will launch the spring semester online, hoping to mitigate post-holiday spread of the omicron variant. Calvin has a different strategy, offering three weeks of voluntary, subsidized surveillance testing as students return. In-person classes began on Monday, Jan. 10, with dorms, dining halls, Hekman Library, the Morren Fitness Center and other on-campus buildings and resources also re-opening, though with some additional restrictions, such as a ban on food and drink service.

As of Jan.14, Calvin had 104 active COVID-19 cases, including 47 on-campus students, 44 off-campus students, and 13 staff members. This is the highest number of total active cases since a peak of 118 on a single day in February 2021. At that time, two weeks of increased physical distancing had recently been implemented to cope with a rapid increase in cases. Far fewer students, however, are currently in quarantine than during last year’s spike. The CDC recently shortened recommended quarantine times for vaccinated individuals from 10 days to five. Calvin’s student body is currently 85% vaccinated.

Kent County’s overall COVID-19 rates have climbed since Christmas, more steeply than other West Michigan counties. Kent was averaging 1,134 daily new cases as of Jan. 14 compared to neighboring counties Ottawa and Muskegon, which were averaging 428 and 235 daily new cases.

Calvin isn’t the only West Michigan school facing a spike: Grand Valley State University is recording its most cases per day since the pandemic began, with a seven-day average of 80 new cases recorded on Jan. 12. GVSU, whose student population of 22,000 is about 82% vaccinated, is currently functioning at a “Level 3-High Alert,” which includes face covering requirements in public spaces, limited dining services and reduced events and activities. Classes began on Jan. 10.

Hope College also resumed in person classes last Monday, implementing a “Show a Test / Take a Test” return strategy which required students to either take a test through the college or present evidence of a negative test taken elsewhere. All students who tested positive were expected to complete 10 days of isolation. Students who live within 300 miles of campus have been asked to return to their homes during their isolation. As of Jan. 10, 187 Hope students had tested positive for COVID this semester.

Although some Calvin faculty began the year teaching remotely due to COVID contact or other health issues, the majority of classes remain in-person. It is yet to be seen if the spike will continue, following last year’s trend, or if high vaccination rates and new restrictions will slow the spread before campus breaks its case count record.