Wilkes administration addresses rumors amidst an upsurge in cases on campus; sending students home is a last resort


Madison Hummer & Kirsten Peters

Rumors on Tuesday centered around athletes and their potential role in causing the increase in the upsurge in positive cases on campus. Additional rumors included athletics being canceled or that the campus was at risk of closing and sending students home. The Beacon took these rumors to the attention of the administration.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited from its original form posted Wednesday, March 17.

As rumors continued to build and the COVID-19 case count on campus increased, administrators said Tuesday that no one group of students could be identified as the central cause, but that off-campus gatherings played a key role. Despite the spike, administrators reassured that closing campus is a last resort.

 Since the beginning of the semester, there have been 47 positive tests of COVID-19. Over 30 of those cases were only identified as recently as March 8. 

“We are disappointed to share with you that many of these cases can be traced to a small number of off-campus gatherings hosted and attended by members of our student body,” said President Greg Cant in an email address to the campus community. “An increase in cases impacts the entire University. First and foremost, it risks the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and interrupts the learning experience for which you are investing your time and money. 

“It also taxes our quarantine and isolation space, challenges our food services provider and results in a loss of academic, athletic and social opportunities.”

After Cant’s message, worries began to rise over whether students would be sent home, causing an end to in-person classes for the semester. 

Rumors on Tuesday centered around athletes and their potential role in causing the increase in the upsurge in positive cases. Additional rumors included athletics being canceled or that the campus was at risk of closing and sending students home.

The Beacon took the rumors to the attention of the administration, and in response, a group statement was issued by Executive Director of Communications Gabrielle D’Amico, on behalf of, President Cant, Athletic Director Addy Malatesta, and the COVID-19 daily response team consisting of Vice President Paul Adams, Interim Provost Terese Wignot, Dean of Student Affairs Mark Allen, Assistant Vice President of Operations and Compliance Justin Kraynack, Project Manager Michele Garrison and Associate Dean of Student Affairs Gretchen Yeninas.

They identified that the spike in cases was concerning and that it prompted their Monday message to the campus community.

There is speculation about the upsurge in cases relating to an off-campus party hosted by one of the “football houses.”  Following the weekend of March 5 and 6 (the dates of the alleged party), the number of COVID-19 cases increased sharply, especially among the athletic teams. 

The rumor is that most of the people in attendance were members of an athletic team who assumed that they were safe since the people they interact with the most (teammates) had tested negative throughout the week. 

Athletes who are in season receive up to three COVID tests a week; those out of season receive at least one test a week to ensure that their team is still safe to practice.

“Some but not all of the spread can be tied to off-campus gatherings, impacting students in a variety of majors, and who are involved in a range of campus and athletic activities,” the administration’s statement said. “We are investigating those instances and will take disciplinary measures as necessary.”

Head coaches Katherine Bowie, Sarah Burkarth, Joseph Czopek, Jon Drach, Kevin Gryboski, Tyler Hynes, Curtis Jaques, Jackie Klahod, Jon Laudenslager, Thomas Limouzee, Tara Macciocco, John McNichol, Izzi Metz, Michael Piranian, Guy Rothery, Beth Spencer, Victor Terranova, Earl Utter and Nicholas Wadas, as well as assistant athletic trainer Camille Valvano and athletic trainer Carl Andrews, were all contacted for a comment, but they declined to discuss the situation. 

Administrators also addressed the rumor of athletics being canceled.

“If we find ourselves in a position where the health needs of the campus exceed the University’s capabilities, or if the health situation requires more dramatic action, there are a spectrum of ways through which we can slow the spread,” they explained in the provided statement. “That may include taking a weeklong pause in our athletics programs or other co-curriculars.”

A short break in face-to-face classes and activities is also an option,  which could result in students remaining in their rooms except for essential needs.

“After sending our students home and closing campus last March, we completely understand the anxiety students feel that we may need to do so again,” the statement said. “We have learned so much during the last year, and we are in a much better place, from both a testing and scientific standpoint, to address the virus. Sending our students home for the remainder of the semester is truly a last resort.”

One way to ensure that sending students home occurs only as a last resort is by continuing to follow policies such as wearing masks and limiting large group activities, especially in close quarters, such as with parties.

With the assurance testing in place, the campus has seen 3,506 negative tests since the beginning of the semester with a 1.32 percent positivity rating. However, all it takes is a small group of students to cause major complications.

“The health situation will only improve if we continue our vigilance. It is our collective hope that with smart, safe decisions as we head into summer, and by gaining ground nationally in vaccination availability, this may be the last semester that COVID-19 plays such a dominant role on our campus and in our lives,” the administrators said.