Coronavirus spread at UD driven by off-campus gatherings, officials say
Cases of the coronavirus continue to be found on university campuses in Delaware. Officials at the state’s biggest school think the problem is off-campus gatherings.
As of Friday, the University of Delaware had reported 185 cases of the coronavirus among students and staff in Newark since the end of August. These cases came from a mix of asymptomatic testing by UD, testing through the school’s student health services, and off-campus testing such as through urgent care clinics.
So far the school has conducted fewer than 2,000 tests on asymptomatic students, including some chosen randomly, those who may have been exposed to the virus, and student athletes.
UD spokesperson Andrea Boyle Tippett says the school believes transmission of the virus is happening at off-campus gatherings, rather than through on-campus interactions.
“A large percentage of students are doing what they should be doing,” she said. “They’re only socializing with people they live with. When they are socializing with people they don’t live with, they’re wearing masks, they're outside as much as possible. But there are a small number of students who have been violating the City [of Newark]’s gathering ordinance.”
The City of Newark enacted an emergency ordinance in late August limiting gatherings of those who do not live together to 12 people indoors and 20 people outdoors, excluding those under the age of 16. The City Manager can issue permits for larger gatherings. Penalties for violation of the rule range from fines to community service.
UD recently increased its disciplinary consequences for student violations of these rules. About 30 students have been charged with violation of the school’s code of conduct so far this school year, Boyle Tippett says.
UD is also concerned about students cooperating with contact tracing efforts. Boyle Tippett says it has been difficult for the University to get students to answer contact tracers’ calls and to be honest with them. So the University is offering disciplinary “amnesty” to students participating in contact tracing.
“For instance, if a student attended a party and then becomes sick, when the contact tracer asks them and they say, ‘Well, I was at this party,’ the University is not going to sanction them for attending that party,” Boyle Tippett said.
Delaware State University requires all students and staff on campus to be tested twice a week. As of late last week, the school had done more than 9,400 COVID-19 tests since early July, and had found just 39 cases, says DSU spokesperson Carlos Holmes.
DSU President Tony Allen says the school’s positivity rate has stayed below 1 percent since the end of July. He says testing is important, but not sufficient to contain the virus.
“Mask wearing, social distancing and even how we engage our students in the classroom, which is largely in a virtual format—we are trying to keep the university community safe,” he said. “So far, so good.”