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Princeton sees semester’s largest uptick in COVID cases as students depart for Thanksgiving

<h5>Lewis Thompson Laboratory, where COVID-19 tests are processed on campus.</h5>
<h6>Daily Princetonian Staff / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Lewis Thompson Laboratory, where COVID-19 tests are processed on campus.
Daily Princetonian Staff / The Daily Princetonian

Over 30 undergraduate students tested positive for COVID-19 between Monday, Nov. 22 and Friday, Nov. 26, as many students travel home for Thanksgiving break. These cases mark the highest spike in cases this semester.

Eight undergraduates, one graduate student, and seven faculty or staff members tested positive on Monday, which represents a record number of single-day cases for each day this semester. At least one of the positive undergraduates attended pre-Thanksgiving break events at the eating clubs.

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No single day had reported more than seven total positive cases since students arrived on campus in August, and since the beginning of November, only one day, Nov. 18, had this many cases, with most days in the month, all but six, reporting three or fewer positive cases.

Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote in a Tuesday email to The Daily Princetonian that “complete information is not yet available on testing this week” but did point out that there were more tests processed on Monday and Tuesday this week compared to a typical week this semester. 

“[N]early 4,000 tests were processed on Monday,” he wrote, due to the fact that there will be no testing drop off after Tuesday.  

While Hotchkiss did not confirm the number, University Health Services Medical Director Melissa Marks ’86 wrote in an email to an undergraduate student before noon today that they “had 11 positives this morning,” referring to tests submitted on Monday that were processed on Tuesday morning. 

More cases were reported in the days to follow, with 50 cases among the campus community reported between Nov. 23 and Nov. 26 — including 32 undergraduates.

The spike comes during a national rise in cases just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, about a 14 percent increase from last week and a 12 percent increase from the week prior, according to NPR News.

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Cases in New Jersey have similarly been rising, with new cases up 20 percent from a week ago and 39 percent from a month ago, according to NJ.com.

Ive Jones ’24, who said she attended Cap & Gown Monday night, said in a message to the ‘Prince’ that this situation will be changing her holiday plans. 

“[My family and I] agreed that I would still be coming home but that wearing a mask and eating my meals on our back patio would be best, especially since [I have high-risk family members],” she wrote.

At least one positive case was an attendee at Tower Club’s ‘Tropic Like It’s Hot’ event on Friday, Nov. 19. The individual also attended the club’s semi-formals on Saturday, Nov. 20, according to a Sunday email to club members from Tower President and Interclub Council (ICC) Vice President Savannah Hampton ’22. 

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In this email, she encouraged all members to submit a COVID test prior to Monday at 10 a.m. and reinforced the mask policy within the club. 

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Hampton clarified that the individual that tested positive did notify all others that they came in close contact with, according to University guidelines

The Tower Officer Corps also echoed this information in an email to the Undergraduate student body on Tuesday evening. 

“We informed our membership of the semi-formals attendance as soon as we heard on Sunday, yet we did not hear about their brief attendance at Tropic Like It's Hot until after the fact,” the email read.

Hampton wrote in an email response to Masha Khartchenko ’24, who attended ‘Tropic Like It’s Hot,’ that “Tower has taken every precaution through University and self-imposed measures, so we can ensure a certain level of safety. Further, we ask that students also take responsibility in these situations by making a sound judgement call on attending high risk events — we control what we can, the rest is up to the individual.”

Khartchenko is a Contributing Prospect Writer for the ‘Prince’.

“The best way to prevent any exposure would be to not attend such events, so we ask that students do their part by deciding if they want to attend, recognizing the inherent risk,” Hampton continued. “Incidents like this do occur, so know that we implemented certain risk mitigating factors and are currently working with what we can to gather COVID information and prevent a spread.”

In an email to Terrace F. Club members, Terrace President and ICC President Schuyler Kean wrote, “[T]here [have] been a few confirmed positive COVID tests among members of Terrace,“ and asked members to “be careful and cognizant” while on break.

Alan Lin, President of Cap & Gown Club, notified members that a positive student “was present at the Club last night, from approximately 11:30pm-12:30am.” 

On Friday afternoon, Officers of the Quadrangle Club sent also sent an email to the student body in which they explained that an attendee to their Monday night event had since tested positive for COVID-19. 

In a listserv email to the student body, Lin said, “We are notifying you as soon as possible in an effort to help all our guests who were present at the Club have complete information to protect the health and safety of yourselves and your families as we enter the Thanksgiving break.”

This story is breaking and will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include case numbers from the week and to include information from Terrace Club and Quadrangle Club.

Andrew Somerville is a staff writer who corresponds with and covers USG happenings and other campus news. He can be reached at jas19@princeton.edu.

Caitlin Limestahl is a Head News Editor who often covers Undergraduate Student Government and University Affairs. She can be reached at caitlinl@princeton.edu

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