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KUA reports COVID-19 case as students return to campus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2020 5:22:01 PM
Modified: 8/24/2020 8:09:55 PM

MERIDEN — As students return and prepare for the start of classes later this week, Kimball Union Academy said Monday it has a COVID-19 case on campus and is caring for the person in quarantine.

“While we realize that this is unsettling news, please know this is a situation we have rigorously prepared for in anticipation of the arrival of our students and faculty, and for the reopening of campus,” a community-wide email from Melissa Underhill, director of health services at the private boarding high school, said.

KUA spokeswoman Tricia McKeon said that health information privacy and confidentiality concerns prevent it from saying whether the person who tested positive is a student or employee. But students have been coming back to the Meriden campus since Aug. 10 and Underhill wrote, “We are focused on the care of this individual as they continue their recovery.”

The announcement comes as colleges and boarding schools around the region are welcoming students back for the fall semester, despite some anxiety from members of the surrounding communities.

Schools are expected to “notify their communities when they have identified a case,” said Jake Leon, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. In the case of an outbreak, DHHS will issue public notifications and the state is developing a website that will list all schools and include the total number of cases identified at each, he said.

Monday’s news of the case at KUA struck Plainfield Selectboard Chairman Rob Taylor as “scary.” He noted that he frequents the post office and general store in Meriden and might “take a break” from those trips for a while as the school year begins.

Plainfield has had a total of between one and four cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to DHHS’s online dashboard.

While Taylor said he respects the efforts the school has made to develop a plan to address the pandemic, including meeting with local officials, he still wonders whether teenagers will be able to abide by quarantine rules and avoid sneaking out to the store for a “cold soda and a hot sandwich” from the nearby Meriden Deli Mart.

“I’m confident that they’ll do their level best to keep strict control on it,” he said of the school, noting that high-school students, with dorm parents and curfews, are more closely monitored by school staff than college students might be.

Taylor has been pushing to require masks be worn in public in Plainfield, and discussion of that issue is expected to resume at Wednesday’s Selectboard meeting.

Boarding students are not permitted to leave campus with few exceptions, said McKeon, the school’s spokeswoman. KUA has more than 300 students in grades 9-12, including some post-grads, and they began arriving in phases on Aug. 10.

KUA has students from some 24 countries, according to its website, but is also offering a virtual option this year, so it was not immediately clear how many international students are returning to Meriden this month.

All students are required to quarantine upon arrival on campus. Classes are scheduled to begin Friday and in-person classes are set to end in November, resuming in January.

Other safety measures at KUA include pre-arrival and on-campus testing, daily health screenings, mask and social-distancing policies, smaller class sizes and restrictions on off-campus activities, McKeon said.

Taylor said the case underscores the importance of the proposed mask ordinance, which he expects will be adopted on Wednesday.

“You think you’re safe in a little town,” he said. “You’re not.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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