Community concerns surrounding on-campus COVID outbreak

Alexandra Feller and Ethan Myers

In a Yamhill County town hall held on Saturday, Feb. 6, Patricia Haddeland, Director of Student Health, Wellness and Counseling for Linfield University, addressed concerns about the rise in COVID cases at Linfield. Eleven cases were reported on campus from Jan. 24 to Jan. 31. 

Casey Kulla, Yamhill County Commissioner and moderator of the town hall, opened by asking Haddeland to give a statement about the recent events.

“On Friday, Jan. 29 at 12:05 p.m., I notified our Yamhill County public health officials that I believed we were experiencing an outbreak. They concurred with that assessment and that set in motion an whole response from the university and the state,” Haddeland said.

She confirmed that students were exposed to the virus at an “off-campus location.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, The Linfield Health, Wellness and Counseling Center moved COVID-positive students into isolation and began assembling extra testing rooms in Walker Hall. 

Thursday, the school’s email newsletter, Linfield Ahead, reported 11 positive cases on campus. Nine of the 11 cases were confirmed to be from Hewitt Hall and the other students in the dorm were asked to quarantine for seven days. At the town hall, Haddeland said this move was recommended by the state epidemiologist.

Friday, more details of the outbreak were released via email and Linfield’s Instagram page.

Later that evening, a follow-up email from President Miles Davis alerted students, staff, and faculty that two additional positive cases were detected in residence halls other than Hewitt. 

President Davis implemented an immediate campus-wide pause of all in-person activities including athletic practices and meetings, until Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Any student who willfully violates these or other safety protocols will not be allowed to continue residing on campus or attending in-person courses during the spring semester,” the email read.

According to Haddeland, the pause was not a campus-wide quarantine, but was implemented so the administration could confirm the outbreak was under control.

The university contained the outbreak through contact tracking, which allowed them to find and test more individuals before they continued to mingle with the general student population. 

“If you understand how this is supposed to work, this is what you are going to see–ebbs and flows,” said Linfield’s Chief Marketing Officer Scott Nelson in an email. 

The potential for future case fluctuations is concerning to a student, who attended the town hall and wishes to remain anonymous. “How are we supposed to feel safe on campus while we are having consistent outbreaks? Especially since the students and staff were told that we should expect more outbreaks on campus throughout the term,” they said.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, after the campus-wide pause was lifted, Linfield Ahead reported 13 new cases since their last update on Monday, Feb. 1. The email clarified that eight of the 13 students tested positive while in quarantine.

At the town hall, students and faculty voiced concerns about high case numbers and how the university releases and communicates information. Rachel Norman, an English professor who briefly attended the town hall, said in an interview, “The questions discussed were incredibly laced with anxiety and fear.” 

“The students were not asking you to define quarantine for them or to define isolation. They are telling you that they are scared and they want you to reassure them,” Norman said.

Dayna Gilbert, a spouse of a Linfield professor, has been vocal in expressing her discontent regarding the university’s response to the surge in cases.

As someone who is immunocompromised, I rely on accurate information to stay safe. My hope is that Linfield will do more widespread testing on a regular basis,” Gilbert said in an email. “I also hope they will let faculty teach online for more than two days when there is an outbreak.”

As a former teacher herself, Gilbert understands how important face-to-face meetings are for education, but wishes the university would be more transparent and communicative. 

“Through community forums, I learned that there are many people that don’t feel safe. Unfortunately, they weren’t represented in President Davis’ communications,” Gilbert said.

In order to teach fully-online classes, Linfield faculty must get a doctor’s note approved by Human Resources. While some professors were given permission to hold class remotely, others at the town hall said their doctor’s notes were rejected.

The Linfield Review sent a survey out to Linfield community members to understand how students, staff, and faculty felt about their safety and the communication coming from the university. Through the survey, respondents were able to voice their thoughts anonymously. 

A freshman named Kaitlyn Ho said, “I don’t know where everyone has been and even though the classrooms are only allowed to have a certain amount of students in them, I still get nervous being in a room with multiple people for a long period of time.” Ho has a compromised immune system which has increased her anxieties around living on campus and attending in-person classes. 

Cade West, a junior, said she is happy to be on campus, but wishes she had the option to complete her classes online.

As of Thursday, Feb. 11, the Linfield Ahead confirmed three new positive cases on the McMinnville campus, totaling to 41 since the start of the semester.

Editor’s Note: The results for questions 1-4 on the Linfield Review COVID-19 survey were not reported in this article as there was no way to ensure the data we gathered was accurate. The only answers that will be referenced are from the short answer portion of the survey.