PENN YAN — She didn’t call them parties, but Yates County’s public health director said two “large gatherings” are the main cause of a COVID-19 outbreak at Keuka College that is closing in on 60 cases and likely to get bigger.
At Tuesday’s county Legislature meeting, Deb Minor said 55 Keuka students and two faculty members have tested positive for the coronavirus. About 100 other students who had contact with the infected students are also under quarantine.
“I expect the numbers will go up,” Minor said.
Last week, the college suspended in-person classes for at least two weeks after nearly 20 students tested positive. Minor said her staff worked all weekend, including the Columbus Day holiday, to confirm the additional cases and conduct contact tracing.
“We really can link all of these back to some fairly large social gatherings off campus,” said Minor, adding they were Oct. 2 and 3 in the town of Jerusalem. “Unfortunately, people are not doing what they need to when it comes to social distancing and wearing masks. As we see, this spreads very quickly and it has a huge impact on the college community and general community.”
Kevin Frisch, the college’s director of communications and media relations, confirmed those numbers Tuesday afternoon. He said faculty and non-essential staff are working remotely at least until Oct. 23, and community spaces such as the athletic center and library are closed until further notice.
Frisch added that the college is following the guidance of the local health department in an effort to contain the outbreak.
“This is pretty new to both of us,” he said.
Minor said her office is working closely with the college and state Department of Health, which may recommend the students who tested positive remain in isolation on campus. Exposed students who have not tested positive yet could be sent home for a 14-day quarantine.
Minor added that the small size of the Keuka campus may be a factor in the state DOH decision.
“We are having a difficult time keeping exposed people from students who are not exposed. They could be sharing dorm rooms or bathrooms,” Minor said. “The college is doing the best they can, but they don’t have a large space to quarantine students.”
Keuka has closed its dining hall for sit-down dining and is doing takeout only. It also has suspended athletics, intramural and extracurricular activities.
None of the students have been hospitalized. Minor said most are reporting mild symptoms.
Legislator Jim Multer asked Minor about a recent social media post that listed local businesses that infected students were in. She said people should assume any business they enter could have been frequented by a COVID-positive person, even if they were asymptomatic, and she urged people to wear a mask in any business.
Minor said on a better note, there are only three active community cases of the coronavirus, and all of them are recovering at home.
There are no active cases among students and staff at Penn Yan or Dundee schools, although one student who has not tested positive is under quarantine after having contact with a positive case away from school.
“We are very thankful for that,” Minor said. “More concerning is Keuka College.”