Seven students and three employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, Feb. 11 as the University welcomed students back to campus for the start of the spring semester. The positive cases represent a 0.19% positivity rate for students and a 0.44% positivity rate for employees out of all tests conducted during the spring semester so far.
“Thus far, our return to campus has been a great success,” Medical Director Dr. Thomas McLarney wrote in an all-campus email on Feb. 11. “We have seen terrific compliance from our students with pre-arrival testing and quarantine and influenza vaccination. In our first few days of testing, the positivity rate is very low relative to our predictions.”
The University’s COVID-19 alert level remains at Yellow as students observe the state-mandated, two-week quarantine through Sunday, Feb. 21. Just as in the fall, all classes are taking place online during this period.
Students who test positive are being isolated at the Inn at Middletown, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley. When appropriate, close contacts of positive students will also be moved to the Inn to quarantine.
Near the end of the fall semester, a significant increase in COVID-19 cases before Thanksgiving break led the University to advise students to leave campus if they were safely able to do so and to introduce stricter regulations, including switching all in-person classes to a virtual format. Whaley explained that the experiences of the fall semester prompted the University to heighten its COVID guidelines for the spring.
“Some of our positive cases last November resulted from students venturing off campus so we thought it prudent to tighten those restrictions a bit, especially with elevated rates in the surrounding community,” Whaley wrote in an email to The Argus.
Additionally, testing protocols for the spring have been tightened so that students must be tested twice a week, and those who miss more than three tests during the semester will be sent home immediately. Faculty and staff who are on campus three or more days a week will be tested twice a week.
Overall, Whaley believes that the University’s community handled the pandemic well over the fall semester. Cumulative testing results from the fall showed a 0.07% student and 0.13% employee positivity rate for the entire semester.
“I think we did very well as a campus community in the fall,” Whaley wrote. “Although there were some violations of the agreement that were adjudicated by the Community Standards Board, the vast majority of students worked hard to comply with safety protocols and together we kept COVID positivity rates low.”
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Frances Koerting anticipates that approximately 2,400 students will be living on campus this semester, which is slightly greater than the number living on campus on the first day of fall semester classes. Additionally, 73 students are currently living off-campus, a slight decrease from the fall.
Student move-in for the spring took place from Friday, Feb. 5 to Monday, Feb. 8. According to an all-campus email from Dean of Students Rick Culliton on Feb. 11, over 20 students tested positive before their return to campus and remained at home to self-isolate.
During the move-in weekend, Koerting felt that students generally followed the University’s COVID guidelines.
“It seems students were very respectful of the policies in place for making move-in as safe as possible, which we very much appreciate,” Koerting wrote in an email to The Argus. “Since all students had to make a testing appointment before returning to campus, we were able to use that process to ensure arrivals were spread out across the four day period.”
Some students were not able to decide if they should return to campus for the spring before the beginning of the move-in weekend, influencing the move-in process.
“The challenge this semester was that some students were not able to make their decision as to whether or not to return to campus in time to be able to retrieve their belongings before students started to arrive,” Koerting wrote. “Therefore, not all vacancies were available to be reassigned to someone else.”
Looking forward, Whaley is hopeful that the spring semester will run smoothly.
“We are off to a good start and I’m confident that we can have a successful semester together if we care for ourselves and each other,” Whaley wrote. “I’m hopeful that vaccines will roll out in the coming months such that we can expect a more normal semester next fall.”
Koerting agreed with this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of adhering to the University’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“We are very encouraged that students have returned to campus with the same dedication to keeping Wes safe as in the fall,” Koerting wrote. “Wearing face coverings and maintaining six foot distancing is what helped us remain open in the fall, and is even more important this semester.”
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com.