Campus testing plans differ as UD, DSU start fall semester with COVID-19 cases
Just days into the fall semester, both of Delaware's largest universities have found cases of COVID-19 on campus.
According to UD’s new online coronavirus case dashboard, 23 students and 3 employees had tested positive since returning to Newark as of Thursday afternoon.
More than 50 students tested positive before coming to campus—and are still quarantining at home, according to University officials. That’s out of the more than 4,000 students who submitted pre-arrival tests.
UD plans to start random testing of asymptomatic students associated with campus Monday. UD spokesperson Andrea Boyle Tippett says the school aims to do 1,000 tests per week, but is still working out the details.
“[We’ll test] people who might be high-risk, I think some of the student athletes will be tested because they’ll be working out together later in the semesters—it’s a mixture of people who may have been exposed or are high-risk, along with others who aren’t falling into either of those categories,” Tippett says.
On its website, UD says students may be tested “several times during the semester.”
Delaware State University (DSU) has a more ambitious testing plan. DSU is requiring all students, faculty and staff who report to campus to participate in testing twice a week. The school announced in July it expected to have around 3,000 people on campus during a given week. Classes started August 25.
DSU President Tony Allen said during a virtual University forum Tuesday that the positivity rate on campus was below .5 percent.
“But that is not cause for celebration,” he said. “In order for us to continue, we have to have the right behaviors across campus.”
The News Journal reported Thursday that 24 DSU students had tested positive out of more than 3,300 tests conducted, and the school is working on launching its COVID-19 dashboard.
DSU Director of the Student Health Services Michelle Fisher touted the benefits of the frequent testing program Tuesday.
“Nationwide, there have been several schools that have closed a short time after reopening,” she said.“One of the lessons that they reported that DSU can learn from is that some of this is thought to have been related to the fact that they did not do frequent surveillance of the members in their community.”
Temple University in Philadelphia is among the universities that have turned to online classes after outbreaks were found on campus.
Tippett paints UD as more prepared.
“One of the reasons that the University made the decision mid-summer to go almost entirely online was that we did not see a path forward where it was safe to bring that many thousands of people back to our campus and to the City of Newark,” she said. “So I think what you’re seeing at a lot of these other schools is that realization, they’re just coming to it a lot later than we did.”
Tippett says UD remains hopeful about student behavior.
“We’re hopeful that [UD] students are going to do what is best for everyone,” said UD spokesperson Tippett. “And they're going to really think hard about ‘protecting the flock’ as we’re calling it, making sure that they’re following the health precautions, that they’re not gathering in large groups, that they’re doing everything they can to stay safe and keep the community safe, so that we can have the semester as planned.”
That might be optimistic. Earlier this week Newark police busted a 75-person backyard party which violated the City’s 20-person limit on outdoor gatherings.
The three hosts of the party, all UD students, were cited and referred to UD’s Office of Student Conduct, which will investigate the situation and determine possible sanctions.
“Knowingly hosting a very large party is a serious infraction,” said Tippett.
Tippett says no determination has yet been made about disciplinary action against the students. She says violation of the University’s rules, which include abiding by the City of Newark’s gathering limit, can result in sanctions ranging from educational intervention to suspension or expulsion.
The City of Newark enacted an emergency ordinance last week 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.