October 21, 2020 7:30 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin Community,

The news yesterday afternoon that six members of our community tested positive for COVID-19 has impacted the calm determination of our campus.

Now, less than 24 hours later, I can say that thanks to the dedication of our healthcare team, the protocols implemented, and after consultation with the Lorain County Public Health Department, the risk associated with the six positive cases appears to be low.

First and foremost, those who tested positive are being cared for, and we are in close contact with each of them.

Second, our contact tracing team has been highly effective in reaching individuals potentially exposed to those who tested positive. Activated on short notice, the team gathered the information we needed to better understand the situation and slow the spread of the virus.

As you likely know, contact tracing begins at Oberlin but is managed in conjunction with the Lorain County Public Health Department (LCPHD). Contact tracing determines the extent of the exposure, and based on guidance from LCPHD, close contacts are quarantined when needed. Generally, close contact includes being less than 6 feet apart from a person who tests positive for, or has symptoms highly suggestive of, COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes without wearing a mask. 

We have implemented the LCPHD recommendations for those individuals who need to be in isolation and have contacted and quarantined the few people determined to be at risk for exposure. As I mentioned in the General Faculty meeting today, those individuals in quarantine will remain there, but they will also receive a COVID-19 test now, as opposed to simply staying in quarantine without a test for the required period.

Our ObieSafe measures and our LCPHD consultations indicate that we can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that by adhering to our strategies keeps the risk of infection low. Although it is not possible to guarantee that no further infection will occur, the precautions we are all taking decreases the probability of infection.

In the Conservatory, where brass and woodwind instruction requires some periods without masks, the faculty and administration have implemented measures that exceed the minimum governmental recommended standards. These more stringent levels of safety have helped minimize risk and therefore we do not need to quarantine people as frequently. Some of the additional protocols that have been adhered to include extensive physical distancing; limits on the size of ensembles; mandatory universal masking (with wind and brass players permitted to remove masks only while playing); room-ventilation protocols; and more. (For additional information, please see the Conservatory's Fall 2020 FAQs).

Although we can feel reassured by our efforts over the past 24 hours to understand and mitigate the spread from this limited number of cases, we cannot look ahead with naive assurance. Ohio is undergoing an increase in COVID-19 cases and it is unlikely that Oberlin will be entirely immune. We must be even more vigilant about wearing our masks, particularly during social gatherings—the singular reason for the need for quarantine in the context of these cases.

As always, our goal is to keep our community safe and limit the spread of this virus on campus. When cases occur, we intend to respond with urgency and to act with an abundance of caution. With your ongoing help, including being responsive to our contact-tracing team, we will be able to move forward.

Meanwhile, previously approved events can continue as scheduled. Remember, the most effective strategy is to wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and wash your hands. Our dedication to these and other measures is at the core of our commitment to each other. This deep commitment that we share for one another is the way we will be able to continue together for the remainder of the semester.

Be well and safe.

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President