Mercyhurst community informed of COVID-19 cluster on campus via email

Rebecca Dunphy, News Editor

The night before Halloween, members of the Mercyhurst community received an email from vice president for Student Life, Laura Zirkle, Ph.D. that was neither a trick nor a treat. Much spookier than ghosts or witches, there was a potential cluster of COVID-19 cases on campus that would soon be reflected on Mercyhurst’s COVID-19 dashboard.

At the time Zirkle sent the email, administration was still waiting for the results of the official diagnostic tests, but if they were found to be positive it, it would be the largest increase of cases the campus has seen thus far. Luckily, all individuals were placed in isolation and quarantine and contact tracing was performed to identify those who may have been exposed.

Only an hour after the email was sent, 13 of the probable cases were confirmed and the dashboard was updated to reflect these additions. As of the next day, Nov. 1, all of the test results had been received, bringing the grand total of cases to 29 students and two employees.

It did not take much longer for these cases to continue to increase, with the total climbing to 33 students and five employees by that evening. All these cases stem from to two NCAA winter athletic teams and attributed to off-campus activity that exposed team members.

To ensure the health and safety of all members of the Mercyhurst community, athletic practices, meetings and activities are suspended indefinitely. This allows for additional time to contact trace and deep clean potentially infected areas. Not only are these additional cases alarming to those on campus, but the rise also aligned with Erie County’s largest single-day increase in active cases.

“Any spike in cases should serve as a reminder of the paramount importance of avoiding bars, restaurants, parties and any other large gatherings — especially now. We strongly encourage all community members to heighten their personal precautions over the next few days,” Zirkle said in the email.

Zirkle’s recommendation to be careful and responsible was especially important given that the holiday weekend was just around the corner.

“Reckless and careless behavior from even a small number of us could unnecessarily expose our community to additional risk. Stay home or stay on campus this weekend. Keep socially distant from others, and interact only with those individuals in your group,” said Zirkle.

This is in addition to all  the other COVID mitigation efforts, including mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and increased cleaning measures.

Though, as of the evening of Nov. 3, no updates have been made to the COVID dashboard, it is still incredibly important that community members not decrease their defenses against the disease. “Now more than ever, it’s clear how our actions affect ourselves and one another. Let’s hold ourselves and each other accountable and look out for one another,” said Zirkle.

For more updates on the number of active cases on campus, visit the COVID-19 dashboard, which will reflect all cases confirmed by the Erie County Department of Health. If you are exhibiting symptoms or believe you may have been exposed, please call the COVID-19 hotline at 814-824-3600.