Health commissioner may recommend remote learning at UD if COVID-19 cases continue to rise

A jogger runs by UD housing that is sending a message to other students.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The health commissioner on Friday said he will recommend that all University of Dayton classes remain online for the rest of the semester if the number of COVID-19 cases do not improve by Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, Wright State, Wittenberg, and Cedarville reported new cases on their campuses.

In a letter to students, Jeffrey A. Cooper, who heads Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County, called the university’s coronavirus outbreak “a major threat to the public’s health and the well-being of our citizens,” and urged students to do their part now to control the spread of the deadly virus.

He credited UD leadership for putting in place a strong safety protocol, and challenged the students.

“University of Dayton Administration, faculty and staff did their part. It is now time for all students to do their part,” Cooper’s letter said.

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The university has reported a total of 1,067 coronavirus cases since Aug. 10, and the numbers have fluctuated daily. On Friday, they reported 30 new cases, the lowest since Aug. 23, when there was 32. The university updates its cases a day after they are collected.

“University leaders continue to work closely with local public health officials and UD’s panel of local medical experts to monitor, assess and contain the situation on campus,” school officials said in a statement in response to Cooper’s letter. “We will determine next week what steps to take based on the situation and trends we see at that time. While we hope the trends will indicate that we can return to at least some in-person learning, we also may need to consider further restrictions, including the possibility of moving to fully remote learning, if Public Health believes our campus is contributing to broader community spread.”

A sign on the University of Dayton housing shows what students are feeling about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Although the number of daily cases has fluctuated, officials said they are encouraged that the seven-day average of new infections seems to be flattening and the number of active cases has dropped to 536 as more students come out of isolation. Five hundred thirty-one have recovered.

To ensure safe return to campus, students were issued directives on the use of masks, social distancing, limitations on group gatherings, hand washing and off-campus activity. During the summer the university also held multiple townhalls and consulted with health experts to create a COVID-19 reopening plan.

In addition, the university said in July that they were planning to spend an estimated $15 million on personal protective equipment, technology, facilities, signage, testing and contact tracing. The school also received $5.2 million through the Federal CARES Act to offset some pandemic expenses, and officials were to direct those funds to emergency grants to students and to prepare the campus for full operations, the university said.

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In the first week of the semester, as cases started to increase, the university disciplined more than 100 students for violating the school’s COVID-19 protocols by meeting in large groups and the like. That action was needed, and so is Cooper’s letter, said Drew Moyer, a junior in communications.

“I think his letter to students was necessary for them to truly understand what type of impact that we have on the greater Dayton and Montgomery County communities,” the Wilmington native said.

More students have taken ownership in the past week and are complying with the safety guidelines, he said. Still, Cooper’s letter is sobering, and it will serve as a “kick in the butt” for more of his peers who still have not gotten the message that the virus is real, and they need to continue to take ownership, Moyer said.

“It’s time for us to show everybody that we want to be here, and we as a community care about others, for our peers, for our professors and the Greater Dayton and Montgomery County community,” he said.

The university plans to distribute physical copies of Cooper’s letter, to help get the message out, school officials and Moyer said. He and other student employees known as Neighborhood Fellows will deliver copies to those who live in off campus housing.

Cooper said the community was making great progress in controlling the spread of the virus and transitioned to a lower risk level in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. In the past two weeks, however, the outbreak at the University of Dayton has reversed that trend, elevating Montgomery County to having one of the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita among all Ohio counties.

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“The outbreak at the University of Dayton has become the largest outbreak in Montgomery County. University of Dayton cases are now equal to half of the total of all cases combined in the other 60 outbreaks in Montgomery County since April,” the letter said.

The letter said the outbreak has implications beyond the campus footprint.

“It potentially subjects us to greater restrictions on the rest of our population, mandated business closures and stay at home orders if the outbreak worsens. No one wants to return to those previous conditions,” Cooper wrote.

The UD campus is in a level 4 Red Warning until Sept. 14, which means students should not leave campus unless for approved educational reasons, employment or for essentials such as groceries and medications.

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Cooper’s letter ended with: “The University of Dayton and Montgomery County would not be in this situation if all students had complied with the university’s plan for returning to campus. University of Dayton students have a long history of service and support to our community. Now is the time to honor that tradition so that Montgomery County can continue to be a healthy, safe and thriving community.”

On Friday, Wright State and Cedarville universities reported new COVID-19 cases on their campuses. WSU reported four new cases, while Cedarville added one, bringing their totals to nine and three, respectively, according to their coronavirus case trackers. Wittenberg reported 14 cases.

Wright State University student, in limited numbers, returned to class Monday August 24, 2020. There were students lined up in the bookstore practicing social distancing and almost all students were wearing masks. JIM NOELKER/Staff

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Early this week, Wright State reported its first five cases after the first week of classes. Those infected were four students and an employee at the school’s Dayton campus, officials said. The newest cases involve students, but it wasn’t clear Friday afternoon which campus they are on.

Despite the recent increase in cases, interim Provost Douglas Leaman said he’s pleased with the fact that employees and students are following the school’s safety protocols.

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In a note to the Wright State campus community, Leaman urged everyone to remain cautious during the Labor Day Holiday.

“Fall semester has been in session for almost two weeks now, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone in our campus community to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” he wrote. “I see people wearing their face coverings and practicing physical distancing, as well as other measures. With the Labor Day holiday weekend approaching, I ask each of you to please exercise extreme caution when interacting with friends and family or attending activities.”

The university is preparing to open a clinic on campus for students and employees to get tested. The facility will tentatively open on Sept. 14, Leaman said. The initial days and hours of operation will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 4 to 4:45 p.m.

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