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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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Administration discusses campus return

Administration+discusses+campus+return

Claire Palmer with Health Services prepares for COVID tests as students arrive to campus. (Rob Nguyen/TKS)

Claire Palmer with Health Services prepares for COVID tests as students arrive to campus. (Rob Nguyen/TKS)

On Thursday, Jan. 14, President Teresa Amott confirmed in an email to campus that Knox will be moving ahead with its plan to bring students back to campus in February. 

“The remote instructional environment has allowed us to keep moving forward while protecting the health of the community during this stage of the pandemic,” Amott wrote. “At the same time, we know that a return to campus is necessary to provide the full range of human-powered, engaging experiences that our students have come to expect from Knox College.”

In its announcement, Knox expressed its belief the campus could responsibly reopen amid the current COVID conditions, citing the optimistic outlook expressed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritizer — who recently relaxed the Illinois region Knox County is in to Tier 1 mitigation rules. 

As of this week, Knox County is reporting about 25 new COVID cases a day. This is down from a peak of over 50 new cases a day in November, though still higher than COVID cases in Knox County were at any point prior to October. 

Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich stated that Knox had been monitoring COVID trends in the county, and believed that with numbers having dropped from the holiday peak, they could expect the situation to continue to improve by February. 

The school has also kept track of available hospital beds in Knox County, with Ehrlich saying the school felt it could move ahead with reopening as long as at least 20% of hospital beds remained available, as is currently the case. She also emphasized that the school had considered the needs of the Knox community in the decision.

“We looked at what students wanted, which was to come back, in terms of student’s mental health [and] in terms of access to internet and computers and all of that.”

Ehrlich cited the results of the Financial Aid Office’s survey of students, which found that about 80% of students intended to come back to campus if it reopened, as guiding the school in determining the desires of the student body.

The testing and quarantine process is expected to look different when students return to campus. Knox now has access to saliva tests, which have the advantage of being easier to administer than nasal tests and having a quicker turnaround time for results.

Ehrlich described the process as being given a test tube and spitting into it, with the wait time for results being cut down from days to as quickly as six hours.

The school believes these advantages will make it possible to detect positive cases quicker, and therefore reduce a person’s contacts before they are put into quarantine. 

Quarantined students will continue to be sent to Conger-Neal. However, Ehrlich says the school may now have students quarantine in place if it appears a specific residential area has become a hotspot for the virus.

Knox is also keeping track of the COVID vaccine rollout, with Knox Health Care workers involved in testing said to have already received their first shot of the vaccine. In Knox County, the vaccine is now being made available to individuals over the age of 65, which applies to some Knox employees.

In terms of faculty receiving the vaccine, Ehrlich says there has been mixed messaging on if higher education is included with K-12 in the education vaccine rollout, but that the most recent communication from the Illinois Health Department has been that K-12 will go first.

It is expected that most Knox students will have a long wait before they are eligible for the vaccine, but the school does intend to help students access it if it is available while students are on campus. This would likely entail setting up transportation to wherever the vaccine is being administered locally. The school itself will not be able to administer the vaccine, but would be interested in having a vaccine clinic on campus if possible. 

Ehrlich says she expects the school to treat COVID vaccines the same as other vaccines students are required to receive, with the requirement only being waived if a student has a medical issue or other significant reason to not receive the vaccine. 

Students will begin returning to campus on Monday, Feb. 8. Next week on Wednesday, Jan. 27, Knox will host a pair of virtual forums to respond to questions about the school’s return plans. A forum for faculty and staff will take place at 12:00 PM Central Time on that date, while one for students and families will be held at 7:00 PM Central.

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