Updated April 8 at 12:49 p.m.
At least 202 people have tested positive across the Claremont Colleges since Monday, intensifying a surge in COVID-19 cases that began late March after students returned from spring break. Just weeks into loosening some health restrictions, the colleges moved quickly Wednesday to tighten them again in the name of slowing the increase, which may be fueled at least partially by the new BA.2 omicron subvariant.
Cross-campus dining, which resumed just five weeks ago, was suspended effective Wednesday evening, administrators said in messages to their student bodies. Claremont McKenna College reinstated its indoor mask mandate, which it partially lifted last week, according to an email sent by the college’s COVID Compliance Committee.
With 57 cases recorded over the past two days at Pomona College, 55 at Scripps College and 44 at CMC, the current case count across the 5Cs has reached a record high since students returned to in-person learning last August. Pitzer College reported 24 new cases in a Wednesday update, and Harvey Mudd College reported 22 in multiple email notifications to students.
The 5Cs reported 137 cases from testing last week, TSL’s COVID-19 tracker shows. With a rolling average of 2,078 new cases a day in California as of Tuesday, the 5Cs now make up at least a percentage of all reported cases throughout the state.
“As best we can tell, these cases are the result of social events rather than classroom or workspace transmission,” CMC’s COVID committee said.
CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby said in an email that the college is “well-equipped to handle the recent surge of cases.”
CMC’s medical experts expect the surge to subside within 1-2 weeks, Silsby added, but in the meantime the college will now mandate twice weekly testing for on campus students, faculty and staff. Harvey Mudd is also having students test twice a week.
However, the increase is beginning to strain each college’s isolation capacity. CMC and Harvey Mudd said Wednesday they would begin housing infected students in their existing residence hall rooms. Mudd facilities staff told some students Wednesday that they should be mindful of “the restrooms that have been designated for isolation use only and those that are for regular use.”
Erin Donohue HM ‘25 said the exhausted isolation spaces means she could be sharing a hallway with COVID-positive students, “which doesn’t seem like an arrangement that’s prioritizing the health of students or prioritizing stopping the spread.”
As for moving around gendered restrooms, Donohue said she doesn’t remember being asked for student input on the matter.
“Essentially, your genders in Case [Residence Hall] right now are COVID or no COVID,” Donohue said.
“Essentially, your genders in Case [Residence Hall] right now are COVID or no COVID.”
About one in 14 CMC students was isolating due to a positive test as of Wednesday evening.
“We are having a week, for sure,” CMC Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Basso said in an email Wednesday. “Over the past 3 days, the daily positive student case numbers have been significant and additive to the point that we have just over 100 students currently in isolation (at different time points in their 10 day isolation periods).”
All social and extracurricular events have been canceled or postponed for now, with officials urging students to gather outside — preferably masked — in groups of 10 or fewer.
“All Pitzer, 5C parties and 5C student club and organization events and programs are canceled until further notice,” the Pitzer leadership team said in a message Wednesday.
The EUPHORIA X ONO X NOCHELLA Music Festival, scheduled for Saturday with headliners Cochise and Lakeyah, was canceled after the Pomona Events Committee’s previously scheduled Euphoria-themed party was originally postponed due to a previous surge in December.
Dining halls at Scripps, Pomona and Pitzer have closed indoor seating, while CMC restricted Collins Dining Hall to CMC students only and encouraged outdoor dining. Mudd Vice President for Student Affairs Marco Antonio Valenzuela said in an email Thursday night that Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons would also shift to takeout service only.
“We highly encourage the use of our outdoor eating areas and ask that you avoid eating indoors (i.e. dorm lounges, classrooms, etc.) with others to help reduce the risk of infection,” Valenzuela said.
After a long-awaited reopening celebration for Scripps’s Motley Coffeehouse was postponed until this Friday, staff announced on Instagram that the event would be canceled “until further notice.” The cafe, which reopened Monday, will only serve Scripps students for the time being.
With no guidance mandating a shift to virtual classes, some professors are opting to hold classes online or offering more readily available hybrid options.
Faculty can decide on their own whether to hold classes virtually for a short time, “if it makes pedagogical sense to do so,” Silsby said.
When half of her visual anthropology class was contact traced this week, Andrea Zheng PO ’24 felt like she was left in the dark as to what measures the college was taking.
“Everything seemed fine yesterday but today my class got moved online last minute and [the] dining halls only have grab and go options.”
“I just feel very confused,” Zheng told TSL in a message. “Everything seemed fine yesterday but today my class got moved online last minute and [the] dining halls only have grab and go options.”
For Nathan Hasegawa HM ’25, Harvey Mudd’s response to the recent surge has been worrying. He said he fears the college has not adequately dealt with isolation capacity that’s quickly proving to be in short supply.
Hasegawa questioned why the college has yet to look into providing additional quarantine spaces off campus, rather than have students quarantine in place where COVID-positive students risk unintentional contact in shared living spaces.
“[Mudd] also ran out of isolation rooms in February, and it bothers me that they still have no plan for how to make more isolation rooms available, especially with fewer per capita isolation rooms than other colleges in the consortium,” he said in an email to TSL.
Hasegawa also expressed confusion about seeing hundreds of visitors on campus for commencement ceremonies over the weekend and admitted students programs while the campus is struggling with health conditions.
“HMC has failed to enact commonsense precautions to keep students safe, such as closing indoor dining (which Pitzer did last week and Pomona did today), mandating masks outdoors and stopping visitors from coming to campus,” he said.
CMC’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, which hosts several dinners and receptions for speakers each week, will pivot to outdoor dining from Monday and allow upcoming speakers to decide whether to go forward with their event or reschedule to another date.
“This spike in student cases is ongoing across the consortium, and we need to respond with vigilance and care,” Pomona’s COVID-19 Planning and Response Group told students in a Wednesday message.
Marcella Todd contributed reporting.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more information.
Jenna McMurtry PO ’24 currently serves as a news editor for TSL.