Butler collaborated with the Marion County Health Department to make the decision to lock down the residence hall. Collegian file photo.
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Due to a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases, Irvington House was placed on a mandatory quarantine on Feb. 19 at around 9:00 p.m. The quarantine was lifted on Feb. 21 at around 7:00 p.m.
The first-year residence hall’s lockdown is the first time this school year that a full on-campus residential facility was quarantined.
Brent Rockwood, Butler’s vice president, chief of staff, explained that the Marion County Public Health Department required the university to place Irvington House on a mandatory quarantine.
When making decisions, the university has to consult not only CDC guidelines but also state and local health department guidelines. Since Butler is located in Marion County, the university has been working with the health department and following their local jurisdiction.
Rockwood said six initial positive cases were found in Irvington through contact tracing efforts; the initiative occurred after a COVID-19 outbreak at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. After several Irvington residents were identified as close contacts of Sigma Chis members, they were tested and received positive results shortly thereafter.
The mandate to quarantine the entire residence hall was seen as a precautionary measure. The goal was to ensure that there was no community spread of the virus.
The health department provided free rapid testing and PCR testing to all Irvington House residents. The results confirmed that there was no widespread transmission within the Irvington community.
“We uncovered an additional four positive cases, which were already linked to our contact tracing process and members in quarantine,” Rockwood said. “So this wasn’t an issue of community spread.”
When a residence hall is placed on a mandatory quarantine, FIRs also must quarantine in addition to the students. Catherine Pangan is a faculty in residence for Fairview House, a sophomore residence hall on campus. In an email to The Butler Collegian, Pangan said she sees about 90% of students wearing masks.
“The 10% who are not could bring down the whole dorm in a weekend, and I do worry about that on a daily basis,” Pangan told The Collegian via email. “We all know every single person makes a difference in keeping us all safe. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting a friend or peers on your floor, fill out the COVID concern form, talk to a RA or FIR or anyone in Student Affairs, and they can help address the issue.”
Abby Kom, a first-year music and human communication and organizational leadership double major, lives in Irvington House, and was surprised when she heard the quarantine news.
“We were all really confused,” Kom said. “The COVID dashboard had been updated earlier that day and it said like 26 cases, which is pretty normal for our campus. So there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going on.”
Rockwood explained that the decision was made very quickly and that they notified students as soon as they could. After the six positive cases were confirmed, the university had to work with the health department to put a plan in place.
“I realize it was inconvenient,” Rockwood said. “It really was a late decision where we did not have a lot of advanced notice from Butler’s perspective. But, this was kind of within the domain of Marion County’s authority, and we worked with them to be able to pull this off in a very short timeframe.”
While Butler’s stance on shutting down an entire hall has been made on a case-by-case basis, Rockwood noted that swift action following a small outbreak has proven successful in mitigating widespread outbreaks.
Rockwood said the decision to quarantine an entire residence hall could happen again, as it is a way to isolate the spread of positive cases without implementing a campus wide lockdown.
“We try to be very transparent when we make decisions,” Rockwood said. “So this wasn’t a delayed decision. As soon as we were notified of this, we put plans in place. But hopefully now it’s viewed as a temporary disruption for a longer term gain; ensuring that the campus is as safe as it can be and that we can maintain the semester.”