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Superspreader COVID-19 event at Keuka

John Christensen
The Chronicle-Express

48 students infected so far by off-campus party; distance learning started Monday

KEUKA PARK – An off-campus party is reportedly the “superspreader” COVID-19 event which has now caused a widespread outbreak among the students of Keuka College. As of press time Monday afternoon, Keuka College reported 48 students have tested positive.

As of Monday, 48 students were infected with COVID-19 at Keuka College.

Yates County Public Health initially reported late Thursday that 10 cases of the Coronavirus had been detected on the campus. Deputy Director of Public Health Sara Christensen said, “We continue to investigate a cluster of cases at Keuka College with 10 new cases received today. We are working closely with the Administration and the Health Center. We will provide an update tomorrow as we continue to our investigation and contact tracing efforts.”

By the next day, that number had risen to 18. By Sunday, it was 34. The 48 cases now reported at the campus raise Yates County’s number of positive cases to over 110. With the Columbus Day holiday, Yates County Public Health was closed and unavailable for comment.

Keuka College’s Director of Communications Kevin Frisch confirmed  the outbreak adding that one staff member also tested positive, “but that person had been off-campus when diagnosed and was not on campus at the time of the infection, so no danger of transmission there.”

To address the outbreak at the College:  

  • Classes are canceled for Friday, Oct. 9.  
  • Beginning Monday, Oct. 12, classes will transition to distance instruction for a period of two weeks. 
  • Adult and Online Education (AOE) classes will remain online for the duration of this semester as originally planned. They will meet on Friday if scheduled to do so. 

As of Friday, more than 70 students who may have had contact with the affected students were quarantined on campus, per the recommendations of public health officials. Students were expected to remain on campus during the distance-learning period, but faculty members have reported seeing numerous students packing and leaving campus. 

“Keuka College students have been strongly urged to remain on campus during the two-week distance-learning period,” stated Frisch, “and reminded that unnecessary travel increases health risks to the people in their families and broader home communities. However, if any student decides to engage in remote-learning from home, neither the college nor public health protocols prohibit them.” 

There are no immediate changes for faculty and staff, who will continue to work from campus or remotely, depending on their responsibilities.

“The College has been in close contact with the county health department throughout the process and is following its recommendations and guidelines,” stated Frisch. “It has also bolstered cleaning and disinfecting operations throughout the campus and has reiterated to students the importance of adhering to the college’s public-health policies and protocols.”

College President Amy Storey said, “We will take every step necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the College community while continuing to deliver the high-quality education our students deserve.” 

No official mention has yet been made of the venue beyond calling it “an off-campus social event,” attended by “several dozen students.” Sources have described a party hosted by members of the college’s lacrosse team, but that has not been confirmed by the college. 

“We cannot, however, be certain all the cases identified among students were a result of the party,” stated Frisch. “We have seen cases throughout the region climbing as well, and at least one case on campus can be tied to an alternate source off-campus.”

Public Health stated on social media, “Keuka College students have been very cooperative with Public Health staff in our investigation efforts.” No mention has yet been made of how far outside the student body contacts had been traced, which may have a far wider impact than the immediate college community.

As of the last Public Health report Friday, there were 121 cases and/or traced contacts in quarantine, along with another 46 in travelers’ quarantine. One is currently hospitalized in Geneva. The number of deaths remains flat at seven, all from The Homestead nursing home earlier this year.