Anderson under quarantine: Tracing the campus’ first major outbreak

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Whitman community received an urgent email from Peter Harvey, Chair of the Coronavirus Task Force: Anderson Hall had been put under quarantine after they detected nine positive COVID-19 cases.

Since then, Anderson has remained under quarantine as the task force works to assess the spread of the virus in the hall.

As of Thursday, Feb. 11, there were three more positive cases, bringing the total to twelve. Any student who tested positive was removed from the hall and put into isolation.

The rest of the hall has had to adjust to quarantine restrictions, including restrictions on leaving the building, shower schedules and additional COVID-19 testing.

All Anderson residents were tested on Thursday, Feb. 11, and then again on Saturday, Feb. 13. According to junior Yardena Meyerhoff, an Anderson resident assistant (RA), there were no new positive cases detected from the Feb. 13 tests.

Furthermore, several Anderson RAs have told The Wire that, prior to the Wednesday announcement, a section had been placed under quarantine.

“There was a section in Anderson that was in quarantine previously for a positive case that was detected a while ago, and so they were close to the end of their two week [quarantine] period, and then the pool testing revealed multiple other positive cases,” Meyerhoff said.

The Whitman community was not made aware that any section was under quarantine prior to the Wednesday announcement. The Wire reached out to Peter Harvey to better understand why this information was not made available.

“There was a section in Anderson that was already in quarantine before Thursday’s quarantine of the whole building,” Harvey said. “Our decision to release information to campus is carefully balanced to ensure that we are both preventing the spread of the virus on campus, and protecting the private health information of students, faculty and staff. The decision reflects the number of cases, whether we have reason to believe these cases have been contained or not, and also the urgency of the communication.”

Although there is no confirmed origin point of the spread, RAs and residents alike have suggested that not all residents were following state and school-enforced COVID restrictions.

“Overall, it has been a good experience,” Meyerhoff said. “But there have been some of those times when I’ve had to remind people to put their mask back on or social distance. It’s possible that might’ve contributed to a spread.”

Harvey confirmed reports of COVID-19 protocol violations.

“Both in Anderson and elsewhere on campus, we have had reports of students not following our health and safety guidance, especially related to gathering, masking and social distancing,” Harvey said. “Those who do violate these important rules have and will face disciplinary action. It is likely that these behaviors contributed to the Anderson outbreak. More importantly, everyone in our community should remember that by following COVID health protocols, they can help prevent future outbreaks and avoid this kind of quarantine in the future.”

Joseph Wogsland, a resident of Anderson, wasn’t surprised by the outbreak.

“I mentally prepared myself, especially in the first two weeks, that this is probably going to happen, and I signed up for it, coming back to campus,” Wogsland said.

However, Wogsland added that all of the students he has seen have been wearing masks.

“Mask usage is universal,” Wogsland said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone wearing their mask wrong, or not wearing a mask at all.”

Both Wogsland and Meyerhoff took note of the task force’s response to the outbreak. They agreed that on the first day the hall went into quarantine, the food delivery system used for dinner initially resulted in disarray.

“The situation was not really anticipated and so there was some scrambling to figure out how to get things situated for that first meal,” Meyerhoff said. “So, the food was just dropped off in one central location which encouraged group gathering. There was chaos with that system.”

Additionally, Wogsland told The Wire that the task force did not seem entirely prepared for a hall lockdown.

“They have an idea of a plan, but they didn’t have a concrete plan,” Wogsland said. 

However, the hall has since adjusted to this new lifestyle. The meal delivery system has much improved, with food being delivered to the Hearth (Anderson’s common space) and separated by last name.

“It all goes to the Hearth and there are tables set up with locations based on last names so you can easily find your bag of food,” Meyerhoff said. “We have a one direction flow of traffic. You go in one door, pick up your food, and go out the other door.”

As soon as RAs were made aware of the outbreak, they instituted a shower schedule to ensure that only one person was showering in the bathroom at a time. However, other residents can still be at the sinks without their masks.

“[Prior to the quarantine,] We already had limits on who could be at each sink,” Meyerhoff said. “There are multiple sinks between each person when they are brushing their teeth or washing their face.”

While there have been no new cases detected since Thursday, Anderson Hall will continue to remain under quarantine.


Update: In an email sent by Anderson’s Resident Director (RD) Katie Davie on Saturday, Feb. 13, due to there being no new positive cases as of that morning, quarantine restrictions were loosened to allow for residents to “go outside for fresh air and socially distanced exercises.” However, residents are still not allowed to interact with anyone that does not live in Anderson.

Davie went on to write that “there are many eyes on Anderson right now. We must each be very conscious of our image to campus so that we can maintain these additional freedoms. Each of us must take accountability for the rules set in place.”

On Monday, Feb. 15, COVID-19 PCR tests will be administered to all Anderson residents.