QUARANTINE ON CAMPUS: Inside the Loomis lockdown. More than 150 CC students sequestered days after arrival
The dorm and situation is ‘very hot, and very small, and very new'
Welp. That didn’t take long.
Colorado College became the latest higher-ed institution to announce a positive test of COVID-19 as (some) colleges and universities welcome students back onto campuses for the most disrupted and uncertain fall semester many can remember.
As outbreaks bloomed this week at schools from North Carolina to Oklahoma, and beyond, institutions began knocking down in-person classes and moving their semesters entirely online. At Notre Dame, administrators blamed off-campus parties for the viral spread. Ithaca College’s president in Central New York called its sudden switch online Tuesday an “agonizing decision.”
As we write this, Loomis Hall, a dormitory on the Colorado College campus, is currently on lockdown with upwards of 155 students quarantined inside. For Lucia Penzel, a first-year student in Loomis, the #LoomisLockdown has meant plenty of board games, puzzles, and episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” She learned officially about the restrictions during a dorm-wide Sunday evening Zoom meeting. “They told us we wouldn’t be able to go outside, so we were all like, are you serious? That’s terrible,” she told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “That’s so bad for us.”
🔦SO WHAT HAPPENED?: A day after arriving on campus, an unnamed student living in Loomis Hall reported a positive result for COVID-19. (That student is now isolated in a separate location.) Fellow students, however, did not follow the college’s social distancing guidelines, said Rochelle Dickey, acting Dean of Students and acting Vice President for Student Life, and Brian Young, who leads a prevention work team on campus. “As a result, multiple people in Loomis Hall were exposed to this student, and Loomis Hall is now under quarantine for 14 days to mitigate further risk,” the pair wrote in a statement. “Our 155 Loomis Hall residents have been notified to stay in their rooms except to use the restroom (while wearing masks). All traffic into and out of Loomis is restricted.”
After El Paso County public health officials gave CC administrators permission, students in each wing of the building got 20 minutes each outside Tuesday, with each of them having to remain within the bounds of a spray-painted area on the grass and under the supervision of a Residential Advisor, Penzel says. Some students are joining informal 9 a.m. indoor workout sessions over Zoom. The college will provide activity kits that may include painting and crochet materials. Their food comes by delivery. Professors are making accommodations. Members of the student-led emergency medical response team are working as contact tracers, and they’re checking in on Loomis residents each day. For peer-to-peer contact with the outside world, friends from other dorms have been carrying on conversations through open windows.
“I still don’t think I’ve grasped exactly how long two weeks is,” Penzel says. “[I’m] frustrated and just upset … bummed. This is our first two weeks of college.”
Loomis Residential Advisor Tia Vierling ’22 was helping new students move-in Sunday afternoon when she says Loomis Hall Residential Life Coordinator Sergio Portesan told the RAs to stop moving new students in and to help students move out if they weren’t fully settled-in already.
Maggie Santos, the college’s COVID-19 emergency manager who also leads the Campus Safety department, estimates about 70 students were diverted to a different dorm. At the same time, rumors were swirling in student group chats Sunday afternoon among first-years. News about the dorm-wide quarantine broke in a CC announcement shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday.
Bethany Grubbs, who directs residential life on campus, says certainly the college expected positive cases when they tested students upon their arrival. “But we were, of course, really hoping that students would adhere to the enhanced social distancing,” she said in a Tuesday interview.
The college expected it might have to eventually quarantine a handful of students when one tested positive. That’s not what happened.
After looking into on-campus behavior, contact tracers reported back on what they found. “We dug deeper. This is much larger,” Grubbs said about what they uncovered. Reality set in: “We really need to quarantine all of Loomis.” El Paso County Public Health got involved. Nobody hoped the college would have to do something so drastic, Grubbs said. “It was surprising to many of us to have to quarantine an entire building due to one positive case.”
‘A lot of frustration around the dorm’
On Tuesday evening, students in masks strolled around campus or lounged on the grass. Windows in Loomis were open, and voices carried from inside. Writing that declared the dorm the “best” hall appeared on the concrete outside. Restrictions on people going in and out are high. “They’re basically in hazmat suits,” a student said about the protective gear worn by the limited visitors who do come and go.
College employees don full personal protective equipment including an N-95 mask, surgical-type gown, gloves, and face shield when they enter the building for deliveries. Santos estimates it takes about two hours for five people to deliver everything. Meals come once a day: lunch, dinner, and breakfast for the following day. (On Tuesday, mac & cheese was on the menu, along with sodas and cookies.) Snacks including fresh fruit are also available for students who want to supplement the meals from the campus food service provider, Bon Appétit. Volunteers were able to deliver mail for the first time yesterday as packages started coming in from parents.
In the dorm, students are allowed to leave their rooms only to use the bathroom or fill up water bottles. Vierling’s wing of the building only has about eight or nine residents, so she says the bathroom is often empty when she needs it.
“None of the rooms here have air conditioning, but they did drop off a fan for everyone in the hall,” says first-year quarantined Loomis resident Doré Young.
Dorm life for first-year student Finn Mott isn’t what he expected. Mott lives in a single room in Loomis, which he calls “really nice.” But “it’s also very hot, and very small, and very new,” he tells The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “And so it’s just a lot to handle right now.”
“I was looking forward to getting to know campus a little bit before class started,” he says. “I was looking for an enjoyable first few weeks on campus.” Living like that, he says, “can be draining on your physical and mental health.” Asked if going home is something he would consider if a similar situation happened in the future, he said, “It definitely is.”
Young says one thing she can sense in the building is unrest about the flow of information:
“I think that’s the best way that they could support us right now is just being forward with all the information and developments about the situation … There’s just a lot of frustration around the dorm. There’s a lot of anger and those types of emotions, so I think if they could just tell us everything that they know as soon as they know it, I think that people would feel a lot more respected and cared for.”
Some students from Loomis are already departing campus, headed back home, Young says. She guesses five students might have left her wing as of Tuesday afternoon.
Elsewhere at the college, plans are changing.
Campus leadership on Tuesday abruptly canceled the college’s virtual Fall Conference, which was scheduled for Thursday*. “The COVID-19 pandemic and all of the planning and adapting it demands make clear that this year is unlike any other we’ve experienced,” wrote acting presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore in a mass email. Instead, the college will host a town hall dedicated to pandemic plans.
📍HOW WE GOT HERE: Since late June, Colorado College has planned for a “phased” return to campus, where first-year students would return for orientation and Block 1 courses and upperclass students would return beginning in Block 2. The college acquired supplemental housing options for sophomore, junior, and senior students to decrease on-campus density. It adjusted its student conduct policy to include expectations for following COVID-19 guidelines, such as wearing masks everywhere outside of an assigned dorm room, and said violation of those guidelines could result in suspension or dismissal. After initial announcements that CC would not test students upon entry to campus, the college changed plans and partnered with UC Health to administer nasal-swab tests to incoming students. First-years were instructed to follow “enhanced social distancing protocols” until they received their results.
Then, well, you know what happened.
🏫MORE LOCAL CONTEXT: On Monday, our resident microbiologist Phoebe Lostroh reported in this newsletter that in El Paso County “the new cases every week have consistently decreased for the past three weeks.” But Colorado College isn’t the only higher-ed campus in the area facing a potential outbreak. The Air Force Academy, about nine miles away, also reported recent cases. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, about four miles away, is planning to begin some in-person classes on Monday. Other Colorado universities, including University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University at Fort Collins, and University of Northern Colorado, have all recently reported positive COVID-19 cases.
On Tuesday, Penzel, the first year-student quarantined in her dorm room during the first week of her college experience, couldn’t help but wonder: “If this happened within the first 24 hours of me being at school, how is the rest of college going to look?”
This newsletter required all hands on deck. Special thanks to Colorado College student Isabel Hicks for contributing to this report.
About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project
The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. 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 from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.
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.
*CORRECTION: A Previous version of this post misstated the scheduled day of Fall Conference.