Plague detected in squirrel near CC's campus
Plus, some CC students on their experience of pandemic safety over the last year
Good morning, and happy Wednesday. On this pandemic date last year, all senior grades were due by 5 p.m. (This year, senior grades are also due today, but by 2 p.m. for all students graduating this May.)
Today, we explain last week’s announcement to the CC community that a case of the bubonic plague may have been detected in a local squirrel. Also, we break down how students at CC have felt about the pandemic safety of their peers.
➡️ICYMI: On Monday, our resident microbiologist Phoebe Lostroh gave her weekly forecast for El Paso County. She also explained what the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for mask wearing mean for viral spread in Colorado.
✉️In Your Inbox:
On Friday, CC’s campus newsletter ‘Around the Block’ announced that CC’s Print Shop and PageDNA would be temporarily closed from May 14 to June 1. People in need of print orders during that time can reach out to Centennial Reproduction at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Documart at email@example.com.
Also on Friday, CC Communications sent out a message about the college’s updated Title IX policies.
Also on Monday, Acting Dean of Students Rochelle T. Dickey and Senior Associate Dean of Students Rosalie M. Rodriguez sent out an email acknowledging “the harm and pain so many are experiencing due to the war in Gaza.”
On Tuesday, CC leadership sent out a message announcing that masks are still required on campus. In the email, college officials said that once CC reached a vaccination rate of 50%, people who have been vaccinated and those who have not would be allowed to not wear masks while outdoors, so long as they are socially distanced from others.
👋Gone for a bit, but we’ll be back: Happy summer, CC! During the first two weeks of our summer vacation, we at The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project have decided to take a break before coming back for Block A, at which point we’ll resume publishing forecasts every two weeks and briefs on a less regular basis. We’ll see you soon!
Photo courtesy of Avery Colborn ‘24
🐿️ You’re probably not a Disney princess, so please avoid the squirrels
Hopefully, we won’t soon be called ‘The CC Plague Reporting Project.”
Last week, the Colorado College community received an unexpected email from the college’s Environmental Health and Safety saying that, although it had not yet been confirmed, a potential case of the bubonic plague had been detected in a squirrel near campus.
Following the announcement, social media was aflutter with posts about the possibility of the plague on campus — but the fact of the matter is that a rampant spread of the bubonic plague among humans isn’t really something to be worried about.
“Deep breaths, it’s all gonna be okay,” Luke Scott, Environmental Health and Safety coordinator, told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “Everything that was done with this whole announcement was situational awareness, right, so we just want people to be alert that this is a possibility.”
According to El Paso County Public Health Communicable Disease Manager Haley Zachary, the bubonic plague tends to resurface in rodent populations every couple of years.
“We know that we have plague in Colorado, we tend to see plague within our squirrels and prairie dog populations on a fairly regular basis, not yearly, but it does circulate within those communities,” Zachary told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “So we kind of have a precedent and a procedure and protocol already in place for when we get calls like this.”
Many of those procedures, Zachary said, primarily involve educating the public about the plague’s presence in Colorado Springs, what its symptoms look like in animals and in humans so they can take certain precautions, and the main ways that it is transmitted among humans and animals.
Many of those precautions, Zachary said, involve protecting pets, who are the most likely to come into contact with fleas that carry the plague and thus act as a primary point of transmission for the illness among humans.
Zachary said El Paso County Public Health recommends that people concerned about the plague for themselves or their pets take precautions like removing rodent burrows, buying flea collars for pets, and maintaining distance from dead rodents by using long-handled shovels, and two layers of bags to dispose of them.
El Paso County Public Health also recommends that pet owners keep their animals from roaming freely, and generally maintain distance from wild animals.
At the time of the announcement, El Paso County Public Health had yet to confirm that the squirrel in question had the plague.
But Monday morning, Scott said the squirrel was indeed confirmed as carrying it.
In an email statement, Scott wrote that he is working closely with inter-related teams on campus, like CC’s Landscape and Grounds crew or the CC Communications team, to make sure the college is following guidance from the county.
“There has not been a report of a die-off event taking place in either location which would lead to additional action from the county,” Scott wrote in the email statement. “The most recent case on record in the Colorado Springs was September of 2020.”
One of the best ways to avoid the plague, Scott said, is to not feed or touch the squirrels.
“Stop feeding the animals, that’s the big one, right? Because that right there in and of itself is going to force them to go elsewhere for a food source,” Scott said. “They won’t be as prevalent on campus — that’s going to help the situation.”
Scott also said that because fleas are the primary modes of transmission for the plague, some other precautions people concerned about catching the plague can take include tucking pant legs into their socks when walking near active squirrels, and using bug spray to deter fleas.
Scott also suggested that people get their pets treated with a flea repellent solution by a veterinarian rather than treating their pets at home in order to stop the spread of the plague from pet to owner.
For the most part though, Zachary said that the messaging surrounding the reemergence of the plague in Colorado Springs was to give people a head start on a very treatable illness.
“Really, plague is now very highly treatable both in people and pets by antibiotics,” Zachary said. “That is why it’s so important to get that messaging out, because when people are able to identify that that may be what’s causing their symptoms earlier on, then they are less likely to have negative outcomes from that infection.”
📆 🤔 Students surveyed on a year of COVID-19 at CC
As the Colorado College community nears the finish line on a full academic year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project thought it would be interesting to take a look at how students felt about their experience of pandemic safety over the last year.
So, we created a survey, which we have distributed over the last two weeks through newsletters, social media, and even a letter to the editors of The Catalyst, on the behaviors of CC students and those around them during the pandemic.
Overall, we received 57 responses. Of those 57 respondents, 14% (around 8) were student-athletes; 7% (4) were immunocompromised, although 28.1% (16) said they were “close to” someone that was immunocompromised; and 42.1% (24) received no financial aid, while 19.3% (11) receive less than half, and 38.6% (22) receive more than half; and 47.4% (27) lived on campus this year.
⚠️Some caveats: Results were anonymous to encourage honesty, so we can’t say with complete certainty that every answer was from a CC student. This was an anecdotal survey looking for student opinions, not a scientific survey by any means. These statements reflect individual views and not those of Colorado College.
Here’s the results…
First, we asked students about their own and their peers’ behaviors regarding pandemic safety protocols, like mask wearing, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds. For the first question, a plurality of students responded that they followed local and/or Colorado College safety measures closely, but students were more split about the degree to which those around them followed pandemic safety protocols.
Next, we asked participants to evaluate the extent to which their actions or those of others compromised people’s safety during the pandemic.
For the most part, respondents answered that they felt their safety or the safety of others were compromised by the actions of others or of themselves, although the degree to which they felt that way varied quite a bit.
Finally, to get a sense of the personal impact of the pandemic on our sample, we asked participants who were comfortable with sharing if they had contracted COVID-19 if they had ever been quarantined as a result of being exposed to the virus, and if they had been vaccinated.
The vast majority of respondents to our survey had not contracted COVID-19 and had been vaccinated at some point during the pandemic, with most also not having had to quarantine after being exposed to the virus.
So, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that our sample had a vaccination rate that was far beyond what’s needed for herd immunity. The bad news, unfortunately, is that our 57 respondents do not make up the vaccination rate of the world’s population, or even just that of CC.
Common responses for why students chose to be vaccinated included protecting themselves and those around them, contributing to herd immunity, returning to normalcy, trusting science, and requirements from their jobs or from CC itself.
“I had worked hard all year long to stay safe — keeping my pod completely limited to ONLY my five housemates and two of our romantic partners,” one anonymous respondent wrote. “I wanted to live my life like other students seemed to be doing all year long.”
Out of the respondents that had to go into quarantine at some point during the pandemic, around 76% (16) only had to do it once, while the remainder (5) were quarantined twice.
At the end of our survey, we gave the option to participants to leave further comments, or to leave contact information for follow-up interviews. We kept the answers of respondents that left comments anonymous, and only named those that chose to sit down with The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project for an interview on their responses.
Among those that answered, many students expressed some form of disappointment with how the college or the people around them handled pandemic safety protocols.
Some were concerned about disparities in enforcement of those protocols, or lack thereof.
“I don’t have faith in Colorado College to treat all of its students fairly in terms of enforcing COVID-19 guidelines,” one anonymous respondent wrote.
“Student athletes and other privileged groups on campus have been constantly having parties in public with no repercussions and I think it’s extremely elitist,” another respondent wrote. “I have reported numerous parties and gatherings with no consequence which does not make sense to me because they are putting people’s lives in danger.”
And some were just frustrated all around by the behavior of fellow CC students.
“I have been watching CC from afar this year while I have been completely isolated at home with my family. I didn’t have contact with anyone outside my immediate family for an entire year,” another respondent wrote. “On social media, I saw varying levels of COVID risk-taking. I was disappointed to find that some of my friends were not taking the pandemic as seriously as I was and this has altered a lot of my friendships.”
“I’ve been kind of appalled, to be honest, with how the majority of CC students have handled COVID,” Matt Silverman ‘23 told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project, “There’s just been so many people who have not changed their life at all, and been like, ‘I’m in college once, I’m just going to live with it, I don’t care if there’s pandemic, I don’t care if there’s people dying.’”
In general, many students agreed things have changed during the pandemic, and not always for the better.
“I think definitely with the COVID stuff this year there’s more of an incentive to have a designated group of friends and stay within that bubble, which has made things sort of difficult social-wise, but I think COVID-wise has made things a little safer,” Kate Nixon ‘24 told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project
“I think that the pandemic has kind of exacerbated some conflicts between friends because people are not always on the same page about COVID protocols and safety,” Izzie Hicks ‘22 told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project.
“This year has taken a significant toll on me and many others in the CC community,” another anonymous respondent wrote. “I feel that the school has inadequately supported its students. Learning shouldn’t require suffering. Academic rigor does not require suffering.”
About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project
The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is created by Colorado College student journalists Esteban Candelaria, Lorea Zabaleta, Cameron Howell, Will Taylor, and Ellie Gober in partnership with The Catalyst, Colorado College’s student newspaper. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear every Monday.
The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community.