Coronavirus: ’You can do all the right things and still sometimes you have outbreaks’

As some colleges and universities in the region prepare to start classes, the University of Dayton extended its remote learning until Sept. 14 because of a jump in COVID-19 cases on campus.

As of Friday evening, UD, which has been conducting random surveillance testing, reported 496 active cases. Most other area institutions have not reported any cases on their campuses because they either haven’t started classes or, such as Wright State University, are not randomly testing students. Cedarville University has reported one case.

Surveillance testing is not necessary at WSU because 70% of classes are online and a large number of students are commuters, said Seth Bauguess, university spokesman. Wright State’s campus footprint is significantly smaller as dorms are half filled, he said.

The small percentage of students who are on campus are encouraged to get tested if they feel ill, Bauguess said.

The rise in COVID-19 cases as students return to campus is not unique to UD, said Steven Burdette, the UD COVID-19 Medical Advisory Panel chair and director of the Infectious Disease Fellowship Program for Wright State Physicians and the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University.

Whether cases continue to increase at institutions across the country or in the region depends on students’ complying with the schools’ safety protocols.

In addition, students are not being infected after arriving on campus, as people typically don’t start showing symptoms until up to 10 days after they’re infected, said Burdette, who is also the medical director of infection control at Miami Valley Hospital. Therefore, it’s imperative that they follow all safety protocols, including wearing their masks and fighting the urge to gather in large groups.

“So the key with all of this is the masking and the social distancing, it works,” he said. “I don’t like a mask, I hate wearing my mask. But it is effective. And people have to keep in mind that it applies from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. If you’re around other people, you need to be in a mask.”

UD spent most of the summer preparing for the fall semester. Officials spent millions putting in place safety measures; held town halls to get feedback from faculty, students and the community; and consulted with medical experts. Based on those discussions, university leaders said they developed a reopening plan that called for hybrid instructions, meaning students have the option between in-person classes or remote learning.

However, just before classes were to begin Monday, the university shifted all classes to online because of the rise in cases. The number of cases on campus has jumped despite the university doing “all the right things” because the virus is tough to contain, and it’s unpredictable, President Eric Spina said.

“So we’re hopeful that the numbers will come back down,” he said. “But when we first identified some of these clusters, we recognize ― this isn’t to blame students ― but not everyone fully realizes the six feet is really important. The mask is really important. This thing is really, really contagious.”

When students first returned to campus, Spina said a few small gatherings or some people not following safety protocols likely contributed to the rise in cases. The university quickly identified those clusters, and based on experts’ recommendations, they’ve done target testing, which is why the number of positive cases continue to rise each day, he said.

By getting so many positive cases, the university is defining the edges of those clusters and making certain that they identify everyone who’s infected in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus on campus, Spina said.

They’ve also added additional safety protocols, and students who violate them face disciplinary action. Those efforts seem to be paying off, the president said.

“We’re doing all the right things,” Spina said. “You walk across campus now, it’s a lot different than it was even a week ago in terms of everyone’s wearing masks, everyone’s socially distanced. Certainly from what we see, students are being much more engaged with the safety protocols and influencing each other.”

Even so, that the university had to shift classes until Sept. 14 to remote learning despite all they did to prepare the campus for the fall semester is disappointing, he said.

“I feel in particular for those faculty, staff, students who worked so hard to prepare us for this; to develop a good plan, implemented a good plan,” Spina said. “You can do all the right things and still sometimes you have outbreaks. So the question is, what do we do in response to the outbreak and try to get the numbers down? I mean, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I’m most disappointed for those folks who’ve worked their tails off.”

Wright State completed its first week of classes Friday, and it has not reported any positive cases.

Last fall, more than 13,700 students enrolled at all WSU campuses. However, because of declining enrollment and the effects of the coronavirus, officials budgeted for about 10,700 students, Bauguess said. When the semester started on Monday, enrollment was 11,960.

The residence halls, which have a capacity of 3,000, are currently housing about 1,260 students, Bauguess said, noting that no one has a roommate.

“We’re already kind of a commuter campus anyway,” he said. “Our human footprint is just a good bit smaller than I think some people realize or expect.”

On Thursday afternoon, a few people were walking to and from classes or to parking lots. Most wore masks while outdoors, but all had on mask indoors, as required by the university’s safety protocol. There were also tables at various locations on campus with free masks, Bauguess said.

Credit: Ismail Turay Jr.

Credit: Ismail Turay Jr.

Caleb Matos, a junior in psychology; Philip,Bertsch, a junior majoring in political science; and William Bayham, a mechanical engineering major ― all ROTC cadets ― stood on campus between classes having a conversation. They all wore masks and said the university has put enough safety measures in place that they feel comfortable.

Bayham, a St. Mary’s native, said he has one in-person class, and the number of students was reduced from 35 to 13 as a safety measure.

“I don’t feel threatened in anyway,” he said.

The three, who are training to be Army officers when they graduate, said the ROTC program has adapted to ensure that cadets remain safe. Their morning physical fitness regiment, which is typically held in large groups, was reduced to about 10 people, and they are required to practice social distancing, Matos said.

Central State University has not started classes, and officials said they have no comments in terms of confirmed cases on campus. They’ve formed a partnership with the Greene County Public Health and the Ohio Army National Guard to test all 1,500 of their students who will live on campus, said Sabrina Pritchett, a university spokeswoman.

The testing, which is mandatory, will be conducted on Sept. 8 and classes are slated to begin on Sept. 14. Like some other area institutions, CSU is offering a hybrid model.

Sinclair Community College currently does not have any positive COVID-19 cases, spokeswoman Cathy Petersen said. The college is a commuter school, and 85% of its courses are currently online, she said.

Earlier this month, Sinclair tested 154 faculty and staff who have been in relatively high contact with students, the public and others throughout the summer, she said. They all tested negative, Petersen said.

Antioch College did not have any confirmed cases of the COVID-19 as students moved in Thursday, spokesman James Lippincott said. However, students, faculty and staff were asked to get tested before arriving on campus, he said.

In addition, students are being tested as they arrive on campus, and based on public health and medical advice, testing will occur on an as-needed basis moving forward, Lippincott said.

Cedarville University has one confirmed case as of Friday afternoon, according to the school’s website. Officials said they’ve implemented a proactive strategy, which calls for:

  • Testing of all symptomatic students, as well as testing for athletes pursuant to NCAA requirements.
  • Immediate contact tracing to identify individuals who might have been exposed to infection, even if COVID-19 is not yet confirmed.
  • Precautionary quarantine for any students who might have been exposed to an individual who has exhibited COVID-related symptoms or who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Isolation for any student who has exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or who has a lab-confirmed test result.

How colleges are coping with COVID-19

Antioch College: Students will be tested as they arrive on campus, and on an as-needed basis

Cedarville University: Testing all symptomatic students and all athletes, as required by the NCAA

Central State University: All students who live in university housing required to be tested

University of Dayton: Shifted all classes to remote learning until Sept. 14 and started COVID-19 surveillance testing

Sinclair Community College: Tested 154 faculty and staff at the beginning of August and all were negative; 85% of courses are online

Wright State University: 70% percent of classes are remote, requires students and staff to socially distance and wear masks

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